Gov. Beshear defends his mitigation strategies that resulted in student learning loss, saying they saved lives
Gov. Andy Beshear discussed a number of health topics during an interview with Bill Bryant on WKYT‘s Kentucky Newsmakers, including medical cannabis, Delta 8, abortion and the state’s response to the pandemic related to education.
Asked if he could have done anything differently during the pandemic to mitigate the loss of learning among Kentucky’s school children, Beshear told Bryant that regardless of the varied approaches taken by states, “Everybody has suffered this learning loss.”
Beshear also pointed out that Covid-19 has killed 17,400 Kentuckians and would have killed many more.
“We can make up for learning loss,” he said. “But we can’t make up for the loss of life of a single parent whose kids are left without them, or from a grandparent.”
This question was prompted by statewide test scores released in October that revealed that fewer than half of the state’s students were reading at grade level, with even lower scores posted in math, science and social studies, the Courier Journal reported in October.
Republicans have strongly criticized Beshear’s pandemic policies that shut down schools to in-person learning, saying they contributed to the dismal test scores. Kentucky Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard told Bruce Schreiner with the Associated Press: “Despite his efforts to run away from his pandemic actions, students and parents will not forget the biggest contributor to learning loss in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Governor Andy Beshear.”
Beshear has introduced an Education First Plan to address the teacher shortage and loss of learning for students during the pandemic that includes, among other things, a 5% pay raise for school staff and universal pre-K. Funding for this initiative would require the approval of the General Assembly and opening the biennial budget in an off-year.
Medical Cannabis and Delta-8
Beshear told Bryant that his executive order to allow medical cannabis is “limited and specific” because he can only do so much through executive authority.
The executive order allows individuals that have one of 21 conditions that are certified by a medical professional to legally purchase medical marijuana in one of the 37 states where it is legally sold. The amount a person can purchase and possess at one time must not exceed eight ounces. The order takes effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Beshear went on to encourage the legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January.
“I’d say to our General Assembly I’m not trying to fight with you, but something has to be done and that’s why we’ve taken our actions,” he told Bryant. “So please come in, pass medicinal marijuana. I’ll resend both orders happily if you do.”
This year, a bill to legalize and regulate the use of medical marijuana passed the state House on a bipartisan 59-34 vote, but did not get a Senate vote.
Beshear also briefly noted that he had signed an executive order to regulate Delta-8 THC, which is a legal psychoactive substance that comes from hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD. It is similar to the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, but is less potent.
“We just need to ensure that since it’s a legal product, at least at the moment, that we are properly regulating it,” he told Bryant. He added that this process will also set up a system of regulation that could easily be expanded to medical marijuana.
Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, sponsored Senate Bill 170 during the last legislative session to ban Delta-8 in Kentucky. It passed out of the Senate, but was not considered in the House.
Asked if he thought the failure of Amendment 2 meant that Kentuckians want abortion restrictions to be loosened going forward, Beshear said he thought it showed Kentuckians were opposed to the state’s current abortion law that does not allow for exceptions for rape or incest.
“I think that vote shows that Kentuckians oppose the most extremist law in the country,” he told Bryant.
Amendment 2, if passed, would have amended the Kentucky Constitution to state that there is nothing in the state constitution that would create a right to abortion.