By Sen. Ron Miller
West Virginia’s 81st legislative session began with a full head of steam. As is usually the case, the legislature comes to town to work on the issues everyone expects, but, during the duration of the 60-day session, we will encounter new problems that were not even considered at the start. Today, I want to share some of the major issues that are seen at the moment, and at the end of April I will revisit these same issues just to see what took place during the 60 days.
The first big issue that many expect to be addressed this year will be education. The Education Committees of the Senate and the House will take up this task with a lot of fanfare, and in the end there will be some progress and change. With our final vote concerning public education reform (which will probably be on the last night at the last hour), it is hoped that we will understand that in reality we have just started this journey rather than concluded the trip.
A second major issue that will assuredly be debated will be over-crowding as it relates to our jails and juvenile centers. Already the legislature, the judiciary and the executive branches are working on thoughts, solutions and changes needed to begin solving this problem. I will be very surprised if the solution suggested in the final vote is to build more jails.
Another item, sure to have a lot of discussion throughout the session, will be health concerns. We have a childhood obesity problem. Our population is aging. There are health-care delivery needs. Drug abuse is an epidemic in many of our counties and teen pregnancy continues to plague our state. There must be a serious attempt for legislation to break into this cycle of problems. This could be the busiest session in a very long time for the Health Committee. Sen. (Bill) Laird and I are both members of this committee, and we are both committed to proactive solutions.
A major pressing legislative issue that stands like a 10,000-pound gorilla in the room this year is the state budget. Everything we do or try to do will circle around our budget shortfalls. With declining revenues from the gaming industry and the extraction industries, we have some very serious budgetary concerns. The state must have a balanced budget so much attention will be spent on doing just that. With the Governor’s budget, I do not expect to see any tax increases so there are only two ways to balance the budget. We can either tap into the rainy day fund (I really do not expect this to happen at all) or we can cut the budget. I would expect cuts to take place. My only hope is that we are very careful with our cuts if that is the route we take.
It is my opinion that many of the issues discussed in this article have their roots in two major overriding concerns which we must and should start addressing if we are serious about finding solutions. We have to address the economy (jobs and jobs creation) of this state, and we must start with a vengeance tackling childhood poverty and all that surrounds such. This will take vision and direction and courage. The Senate is positioning itself right now to start the journey addressing these two major concerns.
In a future article, I will share some of how this is being done as well as the highlights of the opening of the 81st legislative session. For now, please know that I will work hard to be a “strong voice for a proud people” in the 10th District.
(Greenbrier County’s Miller represents the 10th District in the state Senate.)