It feels like the calm before the storm in Charleston. The opening week was the quietest I’ve ever seen. As of today, we’ve completed 4 of 60 days...and the ONLY thing the Senate has considered is a resolution to invite Frederick County, Virginia to join West Virginia. (I’m told they’re not interested.) It’s an odd beginning to be sure, but I’m not sure what to make of it.
BILLS. Try not to get too excited or angry about bills introduced over the next few weeks. Thousand of bills are introduced annually, and the most sensational garner lots of press this time of year...but usually don’t ever make it to an agenda, much less a vote.
CHALLENGE ACADEMY. During the State of the State, Gov. Justice shared terrific news. He is pledging to fund creation of a second Challenge Academy for West Virginia in Fayette County in Montgomery. This is something I’ve worked on with the town and the (National) Guard for two years. There is one academy now in northern West Virginia run by the National Guard. It’s an alternative high school option for students who need a more disciplined experience. They have a stellar track record of success. Great news for southern West Virginia and especially Fayette County!
VETERANS NURSING HOME. After working with the Department of Veterans Affairs this past year, I anticipated funding for the veterans nursing home in Beckley finally being included in the state budget this year. However, it was not in the governor’s budget. I know he supports this effort, so I don’t understand the holdup. I will not quit on this. Next, I will introduce two new funding measures as bills to try and finally get this done for our veterans.
TERM LIMITS. Before I went to Charleston, I opposed term limits. Now that I’m in office and see how the system works, I support term limits. Change is healthy for democracy.
With that being said, it’s troubling how much dark money is being spent by a D.C. lobbying group in West Virginia this year to support term limits. They’re sending mailers, buying billboards, and making phone calls across the state for some reason. (No, I did not send those mailers about term limits. They had my picture and I do support term limits, but they were sent by a lobbying group without my knowledge or permission.) They may simply believe in the cause, but this is also exactly why we need full transparency in political spending.
BUSINESS & INVENTORY TAX. The majority indicates they plan to repeal the business and inventory tax, at least in part. The price tag for this initiative is $100 million. Why do they want to do it? They say it will attract business. I’d prefer to spend money to help our small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy and never get any help from the state. Why do we continue to think big business will swoop in and save us?
WEST VIRGINIANS FIRST. My approach to every bill begins with this question: Will it help West Virginians? We were elected to put people first and solve the problems of West Virginians, but all too often the agendas in Charleston reflect what corporate interests want, not what the people need. If we’re going to get serious about solving our problems, that must change.
I’ll begin writing weekly to keep folks in the loop now that we are in session. That’s the view from the back pew. 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.