House of Delegates 52nd District candidates field questions on opioids, taxes, PEIA

MORGANTOWN — The candidates for the House of Delegates 52nd District fielded questions on the issues from The Dominion Post Editorial Board.

Incumbent Republican Terri Sypolt faces Democrat Challenger Gary Knotts in the general election. Both live in Kingwood.

Candidates for the same seat typically come before the board at the same time, but because of unforeseen circumstances, they met the board at separate times on the same day.

Sypolt is seeking her second term. After 16 years as Preston County assessor, she found the different pace and structure of the House initially frustrating, she said.

“I was more of a let’s get it done type person so I really felt just like throwing in the towel at many points.” But at the end of the last session, when leadership handed out a list of accomplishments for the year, she saw there was some progress.

For instance, she said, HB 4015, the state vehicle fleet management bill, which she cosponsored, passed into law. As did SB 273, which she called “the pill bill,” to curb opioid prescriptions.

Then, she said, she changed her mind. “I started this. There’s more things to do. … Pull that towel back.”

Knotts joined the U.S. Army Special Forces and served as a paratrooper medic, then served in the West Virginia Army National Guard for 15 years. After that, he joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and has worked in that field for 27 years.

“I’ve been kind of inspired by the teachers” and right to work legislation to make a first run for office, he said. “I think it’s time for the average person to stand up and say, ‘Hey, instead of moaning and groaning and complaining in a crowd, maybe I can help somewhat.’”

He’d like to see increased severance taxes on all resources being exported out of state, he said, to ensure that the people of West Virginia aren’t left behind to clean up the damages and contamination, and to forestall tax hikes on working class people.

Asked about ways to fix PEIA, Knotts said the state needs to cut waste. “We need to get somebody in there with a system of checks and balances” to search out the waste to save money. And raise severance taxes to provide more money.

Sypolt said, “I do not have an answer for PEIA.” She’s waiting on the task force recommendations and is willing to look at all proposals.

Gov. Jim Justice created a Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education but has fended off requests to immediately put community and technical colleges at the table.

Asked if those schools should have a seat, Sypolt answered with just one word: “Definitely.”

Knotts agreed. He was a trade school graduate, he said, and the state should look more broadly at getting more kids into community and technical schools, where they can get a career without racking up college debt.

Both discussed medical cannabis and the opioid crisis. Knotts said he favors fixing and using the medical marijuana program set to take effect in July 2019.It will help the state get a handle on opioid prescriptions.

Sypolt said the pill bill was a good start. “I’m pleased that we took a huge step in the right direction. We need to continue down that road.”

Both listed their top three priorities for the 2019 session.

Knotts wants to see a serious road plan to open up Preston County through construction of a major four-lane highway to connect the county to U.S. 50, Corridor H and the interstates, in order to open the county for business and new residents.

He also wants to overturn right to work and prevailing wage legislation and solve the PEIA crisis.

Sypolt’s priorities, she said, are to continue making the state more job friendly, to improve pay for state workers and to take care of retirees.

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