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On Day 30, legislative leaders recap their session goals at Press Association breakfast

CHARLESTON – Thursday marked the midway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session, and legislative leaders met with media leaders from around the state to recap their progress and priorities.

The setting was the West Virginia Press Association’s annual legislative breakfast.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, reiterated the Senate GOP’s desire to eliminate the personal property tax on manufacturing inventory, machinery and equipment. Ohio and Pennsylvania don’t have one, he said, which motivates businesses subject ot the tax to locate across the border. “We’re hurting our own people.”

The Senate GOP also remains committed to creating an intermediate court of appeals to attract businesses. West Virginia is the largest of the few states that lack one, he said. “Our efforts are to put West Virginia in the mainstream” and level the playing field. “”If we’re out of step with the rest of America, we need to get in line.”

Along more bipartisan lines, the Senate is addressing foster care, roads, opioids and educational improvement, he said.

Senate Democrats

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, appeared on behalf of Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion. “We think the avenue to grow our economy is through education,” he said.

The Democrats want to restore Birth-to-3 services that fell to budget cuts, and help the 30% to 40% of kids dealing with ACEs – adverse childhood experiences, often tied to family drug abuse and poverty. There are 7,000 kids in foster care and more than 10,000 homeless.

Without those services, he said, “school’s going to be out for them.”

For adults, the Democrats support bills in the system to get people with substance abuse disorder into rehab and back to work. And the Democrats would like to see an opioid prescription surcharge to help raise money to pay for the social programs for kids and adults.

House GOP

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, cited a bit of wisdom offered on Wednesday to the new bipartisan Tech Caucus by John Chambers, WVU alumnus and chairman emeritus of global technology giant Cisco Systems Inc.

In a video presentation, Hanshaw said, Chambers told the legislators, “We have to either be disruptive or be disrupted.”

Being disruptive means moving bills to tackle longstanding problems, such as bail and bond reform to get incarcerated people who aren’t being productive back to work and to reduce the financial strain for counties and cities hurting under regional jail fees.

About 60,000 people in West Virginia, Hanshaw said, are unable to get to work because their driver’s licenses are suspended. A misalignment between the civil and criminal provisions guiding suspensions means people who haven’t been convicted of a crim can’t drive, and that has to be fixed.

And legislators are working on a funding formula for higher education, he said, so higher-ed institutions can have some certainty and predictability. If the K-12 schools were funded in the same way as higher-ed is, we would consider that system broken.

House Democrats

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said things aren’t great, as some would like to profess. “We do ourselves a tremendous disservice by not being honest about where we are or where we have to go.”

We have to understand where we are, set goals and establish processes to reach them, he said. There are some things people don’t want. There’s not a great cry for ending the inventory tax. An intermediate court would add costs and lengthen the legal process even while the Supreme Court’s caseload has dropped in recent years.

People age 25-40 do want high-speed internet access, he said.

And many businesses do want to set up shop in a state with a renewable energy portfolio. Despite that, some delegates nearly succeeded in killing HB 4562, the Renewable Energy Facilities Program that came at the request of the state Department of Commerce, in the Energy Committee.

Coal is important to West Virginia, he said, but companies seeking to move here want green options, too. He knows of one project that hinges on passage of HB 4562 (or its Senate sister, SB 583). “We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to agree with it. But we at least have to acknowledge it.”

Legal ad bill

With a couple handfuls of legislators on hand, the Press Association passed out a positon paper on HB 4025, would require the state auditor to set up a website where state agencies and local governments could choose to run legal ads for free and reduce the number of print ads they run.

The paper includes 11 bullet points on why the Press Association thinks the bill is a bad idea. Among them, many residents lack access to a computer and high-speed internet. While the bill is supposed to be a money saver, local governments make money on the fees associated with the ads. And a free industry website already exists,

House Judiciary took up HB 4025 in late January and after long debate channeled it into a subcommittee for possible retooling. It has not reappeared on the full committee agenda.

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