Beshear touts tax overhaul, expanded gambling

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear is renewing his push for revamping Kentucky's tax code and legalizing expanded gambling as ways to raise more revenue to meet the state's pressing needs after years of budget cuts.

In his annual State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday night, Beshear said Kentucky can't continue making progress without meeting its needs in education, health care and human services.

Beshear told a joint session of the House and Senate that he will present a tax modernization proposal during the legislative session that started Tuesday. He says it will include a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Kentucky cities and counties the authority to impose a local sales tax.

He's also says he'll propose a major health initiative that includes the goal of cutting Kentucky's smoking rate by 10 percent by 2018.

The governor told lawmakers that tobacco is the single-biggest factor hurting the state's health.

He says he'll again support a statewide smoking ban in public places. Beshear says many Kentuckians live in places with such bans, and says it's time to "fill in the map" and protect everyone.

Beshear is also pushing legislation to ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

Kentucky ranks among the worst nationally in almost every major health category.

He says other goals in his proposal will be cutting obesity rates and reducing cancer deaths by increasing screening rates.

Beshear is also floating the idea of "no-phone zones" where motorists wouldn't be allowed to talk on phones while driving, and he told state lawmakers Tuesday night that the idea deserves consideration, given the vulnerability of schoolchildren and construction workers.

The idea was among several public safety ideas promoted by Beshear during his annual State of the Commonwealth address on the opening day of the legislative session.

Beshear says it's time Kentucky aligns its booster seat regulations with more stringent federal recommendations.

He also says the state needs to extend domestic violence protections to unmarried couples and noted that Kentucky's current protective order law doesn't apply to dating couples who do not live together.

And finally, Beshear is making his case for the state to start reinvesting in education funding.

He told state lawmakers that schools have stretched every dollar as far as they can, and now they're out of options.

The governor said Tuesday night that he's determined to find money to reinvest in education, even if he has to make "harmful cuts" to other, unspecified government programs to do so.

Beshear says if the state continues to cut or freeze education funding, schools face the prospect of laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and falling behind in technology.

The Department of Education has asked lawmakers for an additional $336 million to restore funding to pre-recession levels.

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