Once again, it looked like another lackluster session of the West Virginia Legislature, at least from up here in the Eastern Panhandle.
Of course, state and national economic problems played a major role this session. Work on the state budget may not be completed for some time, because tax collection estimates keep dropping and it's hard to get a grip on it all.
This is a far cry from the last couple summers when state officials were patting themselves on the backs for having surpluses when the fiscal years ended on June 30.
The next few years will be filled with challenges for both state and local government – and, lest they forget, for ordinary people.
We were glad to see legislators agree on a better funding method for local health departments. It's a shame that health departments are always running on a shoestring since they provide many free and cheap services and clinics – services that are needed more than ever in hard times. Locally, the Morgan County Commissioners will be considering a Health Department funding request when they meet tomorrow afternoon.
The bill we supported to outlaw drivers' use of handheld
cell phones failed to pass. While things looked good early
in the session, the bill never got out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At least the issue is getting attention. As with
four-wheeler legislation in the past, it may take time for
legislators to reach consensus and grow some courage on
That one was sponsored by our own State Senator Clark Barnes, who showed more success in getting bills through than most Republicans in the Democrat-led Legislature. Seven of Barnes' 67 bills made it. The way things go in Charleston, that's a respectable percentage.
Our other state senator, Democrat Walt Helmick, was one of the more successful lawmakers, with 16 of his 28 bills becoming law. This has a lot to do with his seniority and his leadership of the Senate Finance Committee. As you might expect, most of Helmick's hits had to do with state appropriations, budgeting, taxes and insurance issues.
Over in the House of Delegates, things were much bleaker for Morgan's representatives, both of whom are Republicans. Delegate Daryl Cowles introduced 29 bills and not one got out of committee. Delegate Craig Blair introduced 55 pieces of legislation and only one passed. That one had to do with new rules for Trust Fund distributions.
Blair got the publicity he sought from the idea of requiring drug testing for those who receive welfare checks, but the bill itself went nowhere.
So, as far as this session went, the up side is: Little damage done.
And, the down side is: Little progress made.