We are in the endgame now. By the time some of you read this in the local paper, the session might be over. Or in extended session. More on that shortly.
SOCIAL SECURITY: The SS tax exemption is finally moving in the Senate. While it is not accounted for in the budget yet, I anticipate the tax exemption for seniors will be passed and placed in the budget in the final days. As it stands now, the tax will be phased out over a period of three years. Our seniors on fixed budgets struggle enough already. This is an important bill to help those who have helped us for years.
VETERAN’S NURSING HOME: Finally some good news on this front! With the support of the entire Senate, I successfully amended the budget to include $5 million to build a veteran’s nursing home in southern West Virginia. There is one catch — it requires surplus money. So we will only have access to the funds if we have a surplus at the end of the year, but I do think the chances of that are good! Building this nursing home is the top priority of our veterans, and we owe it to them.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PAY RAISE: Everyone wants to know if the public employee pay raise will happen or not. I think it will. Governor Justice, the entire House of Delegates, and the Senate Democrats all support it. Only Senate Republicans do not, and I think they will in the end. Why? Because they promised it for months. If they fail to deliver their own promise while they hold power, they will lose all credibility.
CAMPUS CARRY: Right now, we’re one of 23 states allowing our colleges to choose if students/staff may carry weapons on campus. The “campus carry” bill would have changed that by requiring all public colleges to allow weapons on campus. It was very divisive, in part because it removes local control. I heard from folks on all sides, and I listened to them make compelling points. We’re all rightfully concerned about the safety of our young people on college campuses. The deciding factor for me was law enforcement. I contacted city, county, and state law enforcement officials to ask their opinion. They overwhelmingly told me, “Don’t do it. It’s an accident waiting to happen.” So I listened to them and voted no. I’ve always been a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and will continue to be. But as the experts told me, this particular bill just went too far. (Side note for historians: James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who secured our personal liberties, refused to allow campus carry when they founded the University of Virginia.)
BUDGET: Earlier, I mentioned that the session may not end on time. That’s because of serious disagreements about the budget. What might happen? One, leadership can come to their senses and iron out differences. Two, we can extend the session by just a day or two to allow all other bills to process and then spend that day or two finishing the budget. Three, we might end up passing a budget minus the pay raise...and being called back into a special session to deal solely with a pay raise and education. Four, while unlikely, we could grind to a complete halt due to lingering tensions and disagreements...and be here until those issues are solved. Stay tuned as the drama unfolds.
Say an extra prayer for the legislature this week. It’s a wild time in these final days, and we need help to make wise decisions to benefit the state. That’s the view from the back pew. Y’all take care!
Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.