People often ask, “What’s the end of the legislative session like?” I tell them it’s like pulling an all-nighter before a big test...but it goes on for a full week. Buckle up, because this final week will be a wild ride. Here’s the latest on several major issues.
MONEY IN POLITICS: In this week’s episode of “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” the Senate voted to increase campaign contribution limits. By 300%! As I said on the floor, the last thing we need is more money in politics, and a group of politicians who allow themselves to take more money from special interests ought to be ashamed.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY: My bill to drastically increase penalties for drivers passing stopped school buses, thereby endangering our children, passed the Senate unanimously this week. I named it “Haven’s Law,” after a little girl who died stepping off her school bus in Lincoln County several years ago. If drivers won’t take children’s safety seriously, they will face serious consequences including higher fines and even license revocation.
PHARMACEUTICAL ADS: Last week I offered an amendment to ban pharmaceutical TV ads, which cost $6 billion per year and partially account for our high prescription drug prices. Senate leadership ruled me out of order and refused to allow a vote. An astute constituent in Greenbrier County rightly researched campaign finance donations and alerted me that those senators who ruled my amendment out of order had themselves accepted thousands of dollars from the drug companies.
TOBACCO 21: In a hotly-contested vote, the Senate passed a bill raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21. The three doctors (one Democrat and two Republicans) in the Senate all advocated strongly for this bill. Because of the long-term consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke, they argued that the age increase would benefit our health and our economy, as we spend millions dealing with the effects later in life. We learned that lung cancer kills more than the next four most common types of cancer, opioids, and suicides...combined. I voted in favor of the change.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PAY RAISE: Senate President Carmichael promised a public employee pay raise for months. The House passed it. The governor wants to sign it. However, when the omnibus education reform bill failed, Carmichael began backpedaling. So did other members of his leadership team such as Senator Blair, Chair of Finance. I predict they will continue to pout for a few weeks but eventually provide what they promised, either at the very end of the session or in a special session. I know Gov. Justice will do all he can to make it happen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.