Legislators give re-cap of session at long last
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce had to reschedule a planned Legislative Re-Cap session. Then, they had to reschedule it yet again. Finally, the third time was the charm as a passed budget allowed local representatives to head back to the Eastern Panhandle.
Delegates Jill Upson, Paul Espinosa and Patricia Rucker were present last week to give a brief accounting of their time in Charleston.
Rucker, who had to leave the event early due to a previous scheduling conflict, spoke to the group saying that she found her first session to be “quite a learning experience that was mostly positive.” She shared that she introduced five bills that were passed including one that allows licensed medical professionals to donate their time in emergencies by providing them with temporary West Virginia licenses. She counted the floods last year in the state as an instance where such legislation would be beneficial.
She also commented on a Farm to Food tax credit that allows credit when donating to food banks and on a bill that will now have motorcycle license renewals fall in line with auto renewals in the state.
“I want to clean up the DMV,” Rucker said. “I think the whole process is too complicated and lacks common sense.”
Espinosa, in his opening remarks, focused on education, an area he said saw productivity during the last session. He shared that bills passed will now allow for more autonomy to allow colleges and universities to make local decisions; that will allow the elimination of seniority as the sole basis for staff retention; and that will allow flexibility in spending.
Upson commented on part of her time spent as “a successful year of telling stories of minorities and their roles in our state.” In that regard, she spoke to the upcoming Catherine Johnson Day and the dedication of Major Martin Delany Bridge here in Jefferson County.
She also said that there was a strong focus on the substance abuse issues in the state which resulted in the passage of a bills making it a crime to possess fentanyl; establishing facilities for treatment with funds from pharmaceutical lawsuits; and increasing the penalty for transporting drugs across state lines.
Upson and Espinosa fielded many questions including how to make the budget process more effective.
Upson said, “The governor’s veto, which he has a right to do, caused us to go back in session.”
Espinosa added, “To try and pass a budget in the first few weeks of the session is not feasible because the session addresses many financial measures.”
Substance abuse questions arose and ran the gamut from helping with mental health issues to legalizing marijuana.
“We need to look outside the box,” Upson said, with regard to the substance abuse epidemic.
The issue of locality pay for teachers, which comes up every session, was once again revisited.
“Other counties don’t see the way we do,” Espinosa said when sharing that those counties do not border states such as Virginia and Maryland where pay is so much higher. He said that the 2020 census will be a basis for redistricting that may allow additional delegates and senators who would support from this area of the state. In the meantime, he said, he will continue to advocate for the issue.