Someday I will write a book full of behind-the-scenes stories from the capitol. It will be long, wild, and completely true. But for now, I better stick to a short, calm, and completely true column of major issues in the Senate this week.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY: My bill to provide greater school bus safety passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously. It allows us to receive federal dollars paying for exterior cameras on all new school buses (to catch violators who pass stopped school buses and endanger children). It also raises fines and threatens the license of the offender. The safety of our children is at stake. People pass stopped buses dozens of times per day in every county. We must send a strong message that our children’s lives are precious. I expect a vote in the Senate very soon.
ANTIQUE CARS: In yet another episode of “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” the Senate voted on a bill this week to exempt cars older than 25 years from property taxes. It will cost counties, who are struggling, almost $2 million. Just so collectors with $100,000 antique cars can save a few bucks. No less than six senators stood up and asked if they held a conflict of interest because they owned prized antique cars and would benefit from the tax cut. President Carmichael told them all to vote, and it passed! You can’t make this stuff up. In a state with a drug and foster care crisis as well as skyrocketing child poverty, the Senate tinkers over antique car tax cuts to benefit their own members. I am at a loss for words.
RIGHT TO FARM: Last fall, several farmers approached me individually about a “right to farm” law. They fear that their small, family farms can be subject to nuisance lawsuits which could cripple them permanently, as has happened in other states. I sponsored “fight to farm” legislation, and it passed the Senate this week. Agriculture is big business in West Virginia, and I’m proud to stand with our family farmers. They work long hours, put food on all our tables, and continue the American farming tradition.
EDUCATION REFORM: After several weeks of contentious hearings, obscure parliamentary maneuvers, and political posturing, the “omnibus education reform” bill died. Educators fought it hard, including a brief strike and risking their own pay raise. Why? Because they thought it would wreak untold costs/havoc on public education students for years to come. For example, it would have allowed public dollars to pay for private education with no accountability to taxpayers. We do desperately need education reform, but it must be based on the world’s best school systems and undertaken through a collaborative process. That is a lesson current Senate leadership refuses to learn. Stay tuned.
ROADS & WATER: I get calls daily from folks wanting their roads and water systems fixed. Here’s the root problem. To replace all our water systems would cost $5 billion. To repave all our damaged roads would take $20 billion. We simply don’t have the resources. Our total state budget each year is $4 billion. The road bond was $3 billion. We are finally taking steps to invest in infrastructure, but it will take decades of investments to recover. I’m committed to that work.
That’s the view from the back pew. Y’all take care!
Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, is a local Presbyterian pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.