A constitutional amendment allowing expanded gambling, securing a two-year budget and raising the high school dropout age to 18 are among Gov. Steve Beshear’s top priorities in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, Beshear told reporters Wednesday in a teleconference.
Beshear, who is in his second term as governor, also said he’ll continue to attack Kentucky’s prescription drug problems. “I just saw a study that more people are dying from drug overdoses than car accidents in our state,” Beshear said. “That’s just unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Beshear said his staff is working on the language of a constitutional amendment for expanded gambling. Any such amendment would have to be approved by lawmakers before going to voters in a ballot referendum.
A similar push stalled in the state Senate during Beshear’s first term, and some area legislators – including state Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and state Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green – seemed less than optimistic that the initiative would find success this time in comments this month to the Daily News.
“I anticipate the bill will be filed during the first week of the legislative session,” Beshear said. “It will be a fairly simple amendment with a few details.”
Because the language was still being developed, Beshear didn’t share any specifics.
Beshear also mentioned that federal stimulus money is no longer available for the state. “We’re going to be faced with one of the most challenging budgets that I’ve had. We will handle it,” Beshear said.
Among the items that continually needs addressing is early education, Beshear said.
“I think it’s time to be very aggressive in continuing to attack some of the substantial weaknesses our state has that keep us from moving ahead as fast as we should,” Beshear said. “The biggest weakness is we need a bigger, better, more educated work force. Companies that are looking to locate are looking for that type of work force more than anything else.”
Beshear also released what he considers his top 10 accomplishments during his time in office. Among them was attracting and protecting jobs. Beshear was on hand in May when General Motors announced 250 new jobs at its Bowling Green Assembly Plant.
Beshear acknowledged that one factor that could stall the legislative process in the General Assembly is the redistricting of the federal congressional districts in the state.
“It is difficult to say what may happen,” Beshear said. “Each house is working on their own plan at the moment. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to come to some agreement and get it out of the way. It does have the potential of clogging everything else.”
So far, Beshear has only read of specific plans in print media.
“I haven’t had a chance to study it in detail,” Beshear said.
Beshear also touched on a recent meeting he had with Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who was Beshear’s opponent in November’s gubernatorial election. Beshear said the conversation had a positive tone.
“I’m hopeful we’ll have a more cooperative working relationship,” Beshear said.
The 2012 session of the General Assembly begins Tuesday, with Beshear delivering his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday.