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At the start of each legislative session in even-numbered years, the governor appears before the General Assembly twice: First, to give the State of the Commonwealth address and then, later in the month, to present a two-year budget proposal.
Given the tough economy the country has weathered during the last several years, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Gov. Steve Beshear spent much of his first speech last week talking about the second one he will give on Jan. 17.
In short, he forecasts a tough road ahead. Although Kentucky was one of the first 11 states to see state revenues return to pre-recession levels, and money is set aside in our “Rainy Day” fund, he said he expects more cuts to be made on top of the $1.3 billion that have already occurred since he first took office in 2007.
If that was the cloud hanging over the speech, there was a silver lining or two as well.
He noted, for example, that Kentucky has the 19th best business tax climate, as measured by one national study, and that Forbes has moved Kentucky up 18 spots in the last two years in its list of the best states in which to do business.
Many of his priorities are also shared by the House. That includes limiting prescription drug abuse, which now causes more deaths in Kentucky than auto accidents.
A recent survey underscored how prevalent this epidemic is when it found that about a third of Kentuckians said they had a family or friend who had been addicted.
In response, he and the House are looking to expand Kentucky’s prescription-drug monitoring system and make it easier for law enforcement to use it to identify problem areas more quickly.
Gov. Beshear and the House also support raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18, a move that would change a law first enacted in the 1930s and would bring us in line with about 30 other states that have increased their minimum dropout age. Currently, about 6,000 Kentucky students drop out each year.
With our youth in mind, Gov. Beshear said he would focus attention this session on early childhood development; career and technical education opportunities; and ensuring that the state does all it can to protect children from neglect or abuse.
If the State of the Commonwealth speech was perhaps the most noteworthy news of the week, the House also began taking action on another major issue dominating our agenda in the session’s first days: Redistricting.
On Thursday, the House State Government Committee approved a proposed congressional plan that would re-align the state’s six districts to differences in population that have occurred since the 2000 Census.
The biggest change the proposal recommends is moving Owensboro from the Second District to the First and Ashland from the Fourth to the Fifth.
It’s still early in the process, but our goal is to work with the Senate to have final versions of new districts maps for Congress, the General Assembly and the Kentucky Supreme Court by early next week, if not sooner.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly.