Legislative public meetings to be held next week
We’ll be having two public meetings this coming week to talk about the upcoming regular session of the West Virginia Legislature.
The first will be held Monday, Feb. 2, at Bolivar Town Hall, 60
Panama St. in Bolivar. The second will take place Thursday, Feb. 5,
at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies on the campus of Shepherd
University. The Byrd Legislative Center is on North King Street.
Both meetings will begin at 7:30 p.m. and conclude by 9 p.m.
At each, I’ll take a few minutes to talk about the issues I think will occupy center stage at this year’s regular legislative session. Then, the floor will be open to questions and opinions from the audience. Those who attend are welcome to bring up any issues they wish.
I always like to hold these meetings before the Legislature goes into its annual regular session. I get some idea of what’s on the minds of the people of our House of Delegates district. Since the district has two relatively equal
geographic halves, I like to hold a meeting in each half. That means one in
Shepherdstown and one in either Bolivar or Harpers Ferry. As usual, we’ll be having a similar set of meetings after the Legislature ends its session, in mid- to late April.
This year’s session starts and ends later than usual. Most years the session begins on the second Wednesday in January and technically finishes the second Saturday in March. But the state constitution allows us to extend that
to finish work on the budget. This usually takes about an additional week.
One year out of every four (the year right after a gubernatorial election)
we start the session the second Wednesday in February. This means the 60th day will be the second Saturday in April. With the extra days to finish the budget, we’ll be done sometime between April 15 and April 20.
The reason we take those extra days to finish the budget is that some bills pass in the last day or so of the session, which impact the state’s finances. Each House will pass its version of the budget on the 60th day. The Budget Conference Committee is appointed then, as well. That committee meets until it
resolves the differences between the House of Delegates and the Senate, factoring in the impacts of those last-minute revenue and/or expenditure bills.
The budget is the most important thing we do each year. Other issues come and go, but it’s a constant.
Now, let’s talk about some of the other issues that I think might get lots of attention this year.
Delegate Don Perdue, of Wayne County, is the chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee. He tells me that there will be at least 10 different health care bills introduced this year. A group of citizens representing many
points of view on health care has been meeting for more than a year now, trying to find a way to cover all West Virginians who lack health insurance.
It’s a daunting task. But the landscape is much different now than it was when we last tried to have universal health care, back in the early 1990s.
Now, many in the business community are demanding some kind of action, saying
they’re tired of trying to compete with foreign businesses whose employees’ health care is guaranteed by their governments. I don’t know if we’ll reach universal coverage (I hope we can), but I think we might make some real progress.
The West Virginia Education Association will make a push for a major pay raise for public school teachers. I hope part of that package, should we pass
one, can be another increase in the amount of locally raised money for schools that will not displace state school-aid money. That’s the only way the Eastern Panhandle will be treated fairly in K-12 education. And the Eastern Panhandle is not being treated fairly with regard to state employees, either. At the very least, we need a housing allowance for them,
based on local costs of living.
While the number of deaths from accidents
involving all-terrain vehicles dropped slightly this year, it’s still too high. I think we’ll again spend a lot of time debating whether or how to make our ATV safety law stronger. Will we act? Who knows?
We’ll likely spend a lot of time talking about our court system, particularly the state Supreme Court of Appeals. Our Supreme Court is lately such an embarrassment to West Virginia that I would be amazed if we let this session go by without doing something to improve it.
There seems to be little interest in revising the law governing video poker machines in bars. The current 10-year licenses run out in June 2011. I think the public will eventually demand that we further reduce the number of machines, and reduce the number of locations where they are permitted to be played.
Next year is an election year. If we wait until the 2011 session to face this issue, we won’t have much time to resolve it.
Similarly, licenses for liquor stores are for 10 years. They run out in 2010. There are the same number of stores in the Eastern Panhandle that were
there when liquor stores were first privatized 20 years ago. But our population has increased by more than a third in that time.
Of local interest, I will strongly support a state subsidy for operations
of the MARC commuter train. I’ll also continue to oppose the proposed Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH). And I’ll keep fighting for better land-use laws.
It’s still too early to tell if the Legislature will be amenable to increasing Jefferson County’s share of table games money, should the county ever decide to pass a table games referendum. Many in the legislature have told me that the state needs Jefferson County to allow table games.
My response is always that Jefferson should get a larger percentage of the proceeds of such games if we are to permit them.