Legislators discuss bills for this session

CHARLESTON – With literally thousands of bills submitted every session and with only a select few making it to a final vote and passed into law, legislators each have things they hope will be able to pass and signed into law.

From education reform to more transparency for lobbyists to addressing gun rights and the state’s transportation infrastructure, local state delegates and senators each have their own priorities they want to see the West Virginia Legislature move on.

Wood County Delegate Anna Border, R-Wood, said education reform was a priority for her.

She was happy to see vocational education, especially at the middle school level, was a priority in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education package. Her grandfather had worked in vocational education in Parkersburg for over 27 years.

“I grew up hearing the accolades of vocational education,” she said.

When students can see what they can accomplish working with their hands through vocational training, their sense of self-worth improves and they become better students in other subjects, she said.

Border also wants to see more local control returned to local school districts with principals being able to administer on the local level. For years, the state’s educational system has been top heavy with bureaucracy.

“With more local control, districts can tailor their efforts to the needs of the students in their area,” Border said. “That is something that has been lacking for a long time.”

Tom Azinger, R-Wood, said education is also a priority for him in wanting to improve the state’s graduation rate and the number of students who go on to graduate from college. While improving classroom performance, he wants to see students be engaged and challenged as well as feeling included.

“If they don’t feel included, they don’t stay in school,” he said.

He also wants to see more focus on vocational education and training.

“One of the most important things companies looking to locate to West Virginia is having a qualified, educated workforce,” he said.

State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said prison overcrowding and education reform are two important issues the state has to deal with.

“These will be two of the most important things we will work on,” Boley said.

Tomblin recently released his education package. Boley said she hasn’t gotten through all of it yet. She serves on the education committee. Boley agreed with the growing importance of vocational education in training the state’s workforce.

She also supports giving principals more authority locally and allowing counties more flexibility in setting their own schedules. The education committee will be working on the governor’s proposal this week.

“We still have a lot of questions,” she said. “Overall the purpose of it will be to create better outcomes for students.

“That is what I hope it will do.”

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, has a bill in the works that would require lobbyists to disclose who they represent and what they are being paid. Many times, lobbyists approach legislators and it is hard to determine exactly who these people are representing, he said. The bill would require them to disclose that and how these people are being compensated so lawmakers and the citizens know who are working on certain issues.

“It is just good government,” Ellem said. “It is a matter of providing more transparency to those we serve.

“I will be pushing hard for this bill.”

State Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said so far this session the most emails from constituents relate to wanting the state to take action to protect people’s Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

Bills are being worked on in both the House and the Senate, Nohe said.

“We need a good bill to protect our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

In the past, state officials did not think they would take up any firearms issues, instead letting it be handled on the federal level. However, Nohe said there has been a tremendous call from many residents across the state for the West Virginia Legislature to address this issue.

“The citizens need to feel that we are listening to them and taking some action on this,” he said. “We need to protect people’s right to bear arms.”

Nohe also has bills in the works to protect property owners from actions taken by someone else on their property, a bill to properly honor police dogs who died in the line of duty and a bill, based on recent legislation in Mississippi, to allow prayer in schools for those who want to practice it.

Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, said one issue that is often overlooked is the needs of the state’s highways.

“We need to invest in our roads and bridges,” he said.

Economic development hinges on having a good highway system in place to convey people to work and to make sure manufactured goods can reach the marketplace, Poling said.

“There can be no economic development without it,” he said. “We need to come up with a plan to maintain our road system and to expand it.”

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said he would like to see the legislature address the state’s business inventory tax. A constitutional amendment would be needed to remove the tax which would require a statewide vote.

“It is the last piece of the puzzle we need in order to be fully competitive with our surrounding states,” he said.

Anderson described the tax as “archaic” as it taxes equipment and material a company has on hand year in and year out. When companies choose to expand a product line or invest in new equipment, they will usually choose the other states around West Virginia to avoid having to deal with this tax, he said.

Over the last several years, the state has eliminated a number of taxes, including the food tax which will be completely eliminated by this summer; work has been done to do away with the business franchise tax; and the state has addressed its worker’s compensation and unfunded liabilities.

“(The business inventory tax) is the last thing still in place,” Anderson said. “I would like to see the legislature get it on the ballot and the voters approve to remove it.”