Session was not without its achievements

Gov. Steve Beshear Published:

A close look at this spring’s lawmaking sessions in Kentucky reveals vital legislation that will help our beleaguered families and address systemic problems affecting our quality of life.
 The General Assembly and my office worked together to make significant progress on many issues, including:
nWide-ranging and bold legislation to help us target the illegal use of prescription drugs by cracking down on “pill mills,” targeting unscrupulous or reckless doctors and allowing us to share information with other states. Creating more aggressive tools to address this national crisis was one of the highest priorities of the session.
nPreserving unemployment insurance benefits for our out-of-work families and protecting a $600 million federal tax credit for businesses. Like most other states, Kentucky had to borrow during the recession’s aftermath to keep our unemployment insurance program viable, and this business-created plan helps make the program sound again.
 nAuthorizing Kentucky’s first tax amnesty program in 10 years, which will result in overdue taxes being paid, and bringing new taxpayers onto the tax rolls.
nStrengthening incentive programs that help existing Kentucky companies expand facilities and create jobs, specifically in automotive and parts manufacturing and in heavy industry.
nEstablishing a task force to study how juvenile offenders are punished, including the treatment of so-called status offenses like truancy and running away.
nEstablishing a task force to review public pensions in the Commonwealth.
In addition, legislators largely kept intact my proposed two-year budget. Its 8.4 percent cut in spending for many state agencies represents the 11th time we’ve reduced spending in the last 4½ years. The enacted budget reduces our reliance on one-time funds and has the smallest amount of new debt since 1996.
 Despite tight revenues, we have maintained current-level funding for K-12 instruction, preserved Medicaid, which provides health care for one in five Kentuckians, and protected public safety programs.
 Furthermore, the budget includes my proposals to:
nReduce crushing caseloads for social workers by hiring more staff in the area of child abuse and neglect.
nFund for the first time a program that provides colon cancer screenings to 4,000 uninsured Kentuckians.
nInvest in aggressive drug abuse treatment by funding for the first time out-patient substance-abuse treatment in the Medicaid program for both adults and adolescents.
nFund an elder abuse registry that will allow our families to protect senior citizens from unfit caretakers.
nExpand the One-Stop Business Portal to streamline how our businesses interact with state government.
nFund the design, planning and purchase of land for the Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville, considered the agriculture community’s highest priority.
nFund necessary road and bridge infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth, including the construction of the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville.
nAnd continue to invest in critical capital needs, including elementary and secondary schools, a fourth state veterans’ nursing home, and maintenance for the state’s aging infrastructure.
These investments in the long-term needs of our people help chip away at fundamental weaknesses that have hurt us for generations.
As we now look to the future, I will continue to work on some fundamental issues that were not successful this spring.  I think the legislature missed golden opportunities to strengthen our workforce by raising the legal drop-out age and expanding preschool programs for our youngest students. In addition, I continue to believe that creating an independent review panel to examine child fatalities and near-fatalities where child abuse and/or neglect are alleged is important.
 And like most Kentuckians, I am disappointed that voters will not, in this cycle, be given the opportunity to decide the future of expanding gaming once and for all.
 Our focus now must be on improving the quality of life for our citizens and finding ways to improve their opportunities for jobs. Toward that end, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and I will moving forward in the months ahead on a broad study of Kentucky’s tax structure to better align it with the principles of fairness, economic competitiveness and a 21st Century economy. We need to create a tax system that enables state government to meet the needs of our people and our businesses.
 A lot of hard work and many difficult decisions lie ahead as we implement a very sparse budget and try to maintain services to our citizens over the next two years.
 But even in a very challenging session, we took some significant steps forward.

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