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This week from Charleston

By Staff | Feb 7, 2014

This week brought an enormous amount of focus to HB 4333 and SB 385, the bills that would cut the currently guaranteed gaming revenue to counties, municipalities along with funds for horse racing. It is estimated that this bill would cut Jefferson County’s portion by about $500,000. This figure does not account for the cuts to the towns of Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Bolivar, Charles Town and Ranson. The money would be diverted to pay for some already approved bonds. I wrote about this before and called it the”haircut” bill. These bills come from the administration and were not sponsored by any member of the House or Senate.

The bill breaks the deal that Jefferson County made when we authorized video lottery. Jefferson County and its residents absorb many of the costs of gaming and need the revenue to support the infrastructure of having a major casino in our community. The idea that the revenue stream should be cut is really adding insult to injury since our revenue is already down because of gaming competition in Maryland. Last week, Delegate Tiffany Lawrence and I, along with a bipartisan group of legislators from other affected counties, met with the Governor’s representative to express our unified opposition to the bill. While no promises were made, I feel confident that we will make progress in stopping, or at least significantly altering the bill. Added to the growing opposition was the public hearing last Tuesday where horse owners, breeders, county and municipal leaders came together to express their opinion about the bill. The House of Delegates chamber was nearly full, and for the first time in a long time, the sentiment on the bill was universal: every single speaker agreed that this is a bad bill. I was glad to be there and hear the support. We had several representatives from Jefferson County including Ranson City Manager Andy Blake.

This was the second public hearing I attended this week. The first one was on the proposed above-ground storage tank bill that was passed by the Senate. This public hearing was jam-packed and drew about fifty speakers, including Shepherdstown’s own David Lillard. Emotions ran high and rightly so. The call for clean water is a constant refrain in Charleston these days. The most important theme of the meeting was “do something and do it right,” and don’t create loopholes and exemptions. The consensus right now seems to be that the Senate bill was too rushed and too packed with other issues. We needed to begin the process of really listening to the people in the People’s House, and not just political pablum. This current bill does not address the very real problem that should have been regulated since the Bhopal tragedy: real legislation to deal with toxic releases. That’s why I have been working on the “Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act” and hope to have it filed within the week. This bill is based on a New Jersey law adopted after the Bhopal, but it also incorporates some of the recommendations of the Chemical Safety Board after the 2008 Bayer CropScience Pesticide Waste Tank Explosion in the Kanawha Valley. I may not represent the Kanawha Valley, but I know the people of Jefferson County care as much about access to clean water as anyone. In West Virginia, water is truly our greatest renewable natural resource, and we must prioritize it for our own security.

Although seemingly unrelated, there was a skirmish in the House this week as we briefly considered whether a so-called “jobs impact” statement should be required for every bill. I am not a fan of these because they are incredibly subjective and hyper-political. I think it is every legislator’s job to determine whether any bill will have a net positive effective, including on jobs. However, I did speak on the House floor and suggest that now might be a good time to have a “water impact statement” for every bill that might have a positive or negative impact on a safe, secure water supply. We need to keep perspective and recognize that without safe and secure water, there will be no people or jobs.