Ten percent of this year's regular legislative session is now behind us. The second week ended last Friday with the state headed into a massive snow storm and the governor declaring a statewide state of emergency. While the weather created this state of emergency, the legislature spent last week learning about another state of emergency - the terrible situation with the state budget for next year. Depending on what projections one reads, the State of West Virginia is currently predicted to be between $184 million and $450 million short for fiscal year 2017. That reality means that some tough decisions are ahead for West Virginia.|
In his annual speech to the legislature, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin proposed new taxes to address this budget crisis - an increase in the tax on tobacco and a new tax on cell phone and telecommunications services. I have heard from many folks in our District about both options, and I appreciate that feedback. The House and Senate Finance Committees will be working with the Governor and his staff in the coming weeks to prepare a budget that we can accept while also addressing road and highway maintenance, the PEIA shortfall, and a lengthy list of other spending priorities. Our local roads are in serious need of attention all over the District. These maintenance requirements are a key priority for me, both during this year's session and after it.
All of us experience frustration over the quality of internet service available in our communities. Last week the House Judiciary Committee began considering a bill to hold internet service providers accountable for their billing practices and make sure that consumers are not charged for services that the providers cannot actually provide. I was asked to chair a special committee working on this issue and develop a proposal on internet marketing and billing practices. This work goes well with some of the other internet-related issues I have spent the past few months trying to address, and the special committee will hopefully have a final product to report next week.
Last week I mentioned that this year I have the opportunity to serve on a special committee on substance abuse issues for the legislature in 2016. This week that committee began its work and is considering how West Virginia can increase the number of drug treatment facilities available to serve those West Virginians who need professional help to deal with substance abuse problems. Treatment efforts have to be a centerpiece of our approach to the substance abuse problems in West Virginia. After decades of enforcement efforts with little progress, it is time to try a dual approach where drug users are not only held accountable by the law, but also offered some kind of help to prevent them from slipping right back into the problem.
This coming week we expect to see bills in the legislature related to concealed weapons and permit requirements, curriculum flexibility in public education, charter schools and local school options. I want to personally invite people from our District to visit the capitol on March 1, when we will recognize Calhoun, Clay, and Gilmer Counties and showcase exhibits from groups, organizations, schools, small businesses, and other entities from our District. Last year we had a great turnout of citizens to promote our District and the needs of our counties, and I hope we can expect similar interest again this year.
As always, the regular session this year runs through March 12, 2016. During that time, please feel free to visit my office in Room 229-East of the main capitol building, or contact me at (304) 340-3135 or by email email@example.com
Until next time, have a great week.