The monthly meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce served as an information session for legislators to share what was accomplished during the recent legislative session and to talk about what didn't quite make the grade.
Each of the local delegates and senators were given time to talk about accomplishments and disappointments, of which there were both.
Del. Stephen Skinner summed up a huge portion of the session saying, "This session was dominated by one thing-the chemical spill in Charleston." He went on to say, "We actually produced one of the most comprehensive pieces of environmental legislation that we will probably see in West Virginia."
Skinner said that he was sponsor on 13 bills this session that were signed into law. One of those, the Small Business Emergency Act, allows small businesses to become eligible for grants and loans to offset the impact of an emergency like the chemical spill in Charleston earlier this year. "Imagine being a restaurant in one of these nine counties who didn't have water," he said. This Act will help those types of businesses recoup some losses.
Skinner said he also fought against a bill that would have eliminated MAP funds-grants for tourism and hospitality in the state. Skinner said both he and Del. Tiffany Lawrence fought against the bill.
In addition, Lawrence said that one of her focuses was making progress for children and families. She cited a bill that makes it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to those under 16 as well as a bill that helped define dyslexia in the school systems. She also shared that she worked to increase teacher's salaries and to defend racing dollars in the county.
Del. Paul Espinosa shared his feeling that the legislators failed once again to make business a top priority.
"Entitlement spending continues to grow," Espinosa said. "There was a lot of partisanship, a lot of political antics," he said. He voiced concern over the reduction to the horsemen and to thoroughbred breeders which will trickle down to ancillary companies.
Sen. Herb Snyder also expressed his concern over the raid on the horse breeder purse funds as well as the chemical spill. He called the spill "horrendous" and said that "it started the session off with an issue we never dreamed of and it went all the way through the session dealing with it."
He said that one word dominated and that was "fear." There was fear by the public and still is such fear as to whether the water is safe to drink in some places, he said.
"The session was dominated by this issue," Snyder summed up.
Sen. John Unger agreed saying that the damage caused by the water issue is a long term one.
"Water will impact us on tourism," he said. "We need to change an image that has been tarnished." He went on to say that the image needs to be reversed so that tourists will want to visit West Virginia and so that businesses will want to locate here.
"We will be judged not because it [the chemical spill] happened, but by how we reacted to it," Unger said.
Another focus Unger said must remain in the minds of legislators is that of work force investment and development and a need to include mental health investments.
When asked what their top priorities in the upcoming session would be, Snyder said that a focus for him will be gas prices and trade practices. He stressed that an old mark up on the books needs to be removed because West Virginia does not need to be paying so much more for gas, especially in the Eastern Panhandle.
Lawrence continues her push on education, where she said more local control is needed.
Skinner plans to focus on a Mini Distilleries and Brunch bills which will help promote successful hospitality by allowing alcohol to be served early on Sundays.
"It is critical for us here," Skinner said.
Espinosa calls for a requirement for comprehensive audits on spending from agencies across the state to help suspend millions of dollars in wasteful spending.
"Some of these agencies are going decades between regular audits," Espinosa said.