This week from Charleston
The end of the session is in sight, and that may be a good thing. One of the most shocking bills of this session is the cynically named “Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015.” This bill will likely have passed the House by the time this column is published. The bill essentially does two things: it allows coal operators to increase the amount of pollution-chiefly aluminum– into the streams of West Virginia, and it rolls back many safety protections for miners. One of the safety rules being rolled back is actually in place as a result of miner deaths! It may be the first time that mine safety laws have been weakened in the history of West Virginia. The only reason for rolling back the safety and environmental laws that I heard in committee was that it would save the coal industry money. This bill represents all that is wrong with this legislative session. Safety and enforcement rules are being rolled back and weakened every day in many different ways. I offered several amendments in committee to fix some of the safety rollbacks, but these amendments were defeated on party line votes.
Also this week, a bill I co-sponsored to help the film industry in the Eastern Panhandle and West Virginia was hijacked and used to lower the amount of the tax credits available to incentivize filming in West Virginia. Fortunately, the bill was moved to an inactive calendar that effectively stalled it for now. Let’s hope it stays there. I am worried that the tax credits are an easy target in the future for reduction. The economic benefits of filming in the Eastern Panhandle needs to be studied and shared with the entire Eastern Panhandle delegation so that we can present a unified front.
One of the few positive things this session was last week’s passage of HB 2535, a bill I co-sponsored, which focuses on suicide prevention training and expands the number of people trained in suicide prevention in order to maximize the possibility that at-risk youth and adults can be saved. The bill requires that school personnel from middle school through college will not only be trained in suicide prevention, but that they will provide children and young adults with suicide prevention information, facilitate discussion about preventing suicide and make mental health resources available. I spoke on the floor about about my own experience with losing friends to suicide and also about the statistics for young people. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. Young gay people are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers.