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Beshear touts economic wins, calls for pay raises in State of the Commonwealth address

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Gov. Andy Beshear delivered his fourth State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday, focusing on economic wins, rebuilding eastern Kentucky after historic flooding and calling on the GOP-led legislature to legalize medical cannabis.

The governor also urged lawmakers to reform the state’s troubled juvenile justice system, fund universal pre-k and provide raises for teachers.

Beshear touted record job growth and low unemployment numbers in the state. He credited much of it to economic development victories, like the establishment of battery parks and electric vehicle plants, bourbon distilleries and expanded health care facilities.

“We are in our Eisenhower moment, providing money for infrastructure, boosting job growth and getting more worker participation in our economy,” he said.

The governor praised law enforcement officers and the National Guard for their rescue efforts in last summer’s flooding in eastern Kentucky and said he would focus on bringing permanent housing solutions to those affected by the disaster.

Beshear renewed his call for universal pre-k, which Republican lawmakers so far haven’t taken up. After historic budget surpluses in recent years, Beshear has pushed for expanding social services, sweeping raises and restoring budget cuts, but Republicans have demurred on most of the proposals.

“We need math teachers, we need social science teachers, but we’re facing a major teacher shortage. Just over the last year, Kentucky dropped from 42nd to 44th in teacher pay. We must act. Failure to do so harms our children and undermines public education,” he said.

Republicans have criticized Beshear’s administration for its handling of the troubled juvenile justice system, which has endured rioting and violent incidents in recent years.

The administration announced the creation of a women’s-only juvenile detention center and a separate facility for those who have committed violent offenses. Beshear also promised an expansion of education and rehabilitation centers for juvenile offenders.

“Far too many crimes are being committed by juveniles. We’re going to be asking you, the General Assembly, for help. Help in the form of higher salaries, upgrade to our facilities and some necessary changes in state law,” he said.

The state has to fill over 105 full time jobs throughout eight juvenile detention centers to address the staffing shortage, the governor said.

Beshear echoed the concerns of juvenile justice officials who recently testified before an interim Senate committee and said the current system, which houses youth together regardless of level of their charges, is outdated and doesn’t serve the needs of incarcerated youth.

Beshear is running for a second term this year, facing no major opponents in the Democratic primary.

At least ten Republicans are running for the chance to run against Beshear, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, former U.N. Secretary Kelly Craft, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and state Auditor Mike Harmon.

Divya is Kentucky Public Radio's Capitol Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.