Legislators look ahead at session
Members of the legislative contingency for Jefferson County gathered this week at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored event to discuss what is ahead in Charleston in the upcoming legislative session. Three of the five of the delegation were on hand, Sen. Herb Snyder, Del. Stephen Skinner and Del. Paul Espinosa. Sen. John Unger and Del.-elect Jill Upson were unable to attend.
The format of the luncheon had each legislator give a brief overview of what their focus will be in the upcoming session. Following those remarks, moderator Hans Fogle took questions from the audience for individual representatives.
The change in leadership from Democratic to Republican control was prominent in remarks made by Snyder.
“I was bewildered by the election results,” he told the crowd. He went on to say that everyone will need to remember that West Virginia is a small state with a small budget. His focus for the day was on budget issues and the need to protect the Eastern Panhandle from being seen as the “golden goose.”
Espinosa projected an optimistic outlook on the future with Republican leadership. His goals, he shared, revolve around enhancing the business climate and creating jobs in the state as well as seeking reform in the areas of the state tax code, legal reform and education reform.
Skinner spoke passionately about the need to protect horse racing in our community. He opposes cuts in purse funds, saying that should those funds be cut, the economy as a whole in Jefferson County would be at risk.
“All agriculture would be at risk; our way of life would be at risk,” he stated. “This issue needs to be a top priority.”
He also shared that tourism is one of his top priorities. He hopes to see an official tourism committee formed in Charleston.
“A resource we have in abundance is beauty,” he said. “We must continue to invest in tourism in this state.”
Along with the tourism issue, Skinner hopes to see reform of the state’s alcohol laws which currently do not allow alcohol to be sold or served before 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The trio spoke to an audience-posed question regarding what issues there are in other parts of the state that would allow them to barter for compromise when it comes to Eastern Panhandle issues. They all shared the need to develop personal relationships with individuals that help alleviate the perception that the Eastern Panhandle is overly wealthy and full of “snobs.”
“You have to be sensitive to others,” Snyder said as he compared the cost of homes here to the poorest county, McDowell. An average home in Jefferson sells for $200,000 while in McDowell the average is $18,000.
“You just can’t be a snob,” Snyder said.
There was discussion on the lack of sufficient broadband in the state, a recurring issue from the past. The natural gas industry and its importance to the state was also touched upon.
Moving into a discussion on education brought on by a question on the Common Core standards, Skinner stressed that he hopes the state does not move to opt out of the program.
“I hate to see us change so quickly after implementation,” he said. He also shared that he had not had any constituents ask him about the standards.
Snyder, who admitted that he has not been heavily involved in the education committees in the state capitol, shared that he believes the problem is not necessarily the Common Core, but rather the State Department of Education.
“We need to get back to basics,” he said. “We need to quit changing the procedures every two years and see what works.”
There were several topics on a list prepared by the Chamber as a result of a survey sent to Chamber members. Minimum wage issues, substance abuse in the workplace and homeless and mental health issues were concerns named by constituents that did not fall into the allotted time frame of the luncheon.