Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier

Wondering what’s going on in Charleston? Join the club! But seriously, several major issues are currently moving. Here’s a quick recap.

COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT (COLA). Did you know that the last time our retirees received a COLA was over 20 years ago? Seniors are struggling. More is being asked of them in terms of helping raise grandkids, yet they barely have the resources to live. Food insecurity is up 60% for seniors over the last three years. Enacting a COLA will put more money in the pockets of those who worked for it their whole lives. Our bill does that and deserves to be put up for a vote!

TAXES, TAXES, TAXES. President Carmichael and company proposed a huge new tax proposal this week. It cuts the following taxes — manufacturing machinery ($100 million), personal property ($200 million). It raises the following taxes — tobacco/vape ($80 million), sales tax raised to 6.5% ($100 million). In sum, that leaves more than a $100 million budget deficit in money that’s currently earmarked for counties. They say “economic growth” and “cuts” will make up the difference. I refuse to be part of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We can’t give away hundreds of millions to imaginary companies in the hopes they’ll come and save us while raising taxes on our own people. They tried it many times in the past. It never works.

CLEAN WATER BILL. Many of you are writing and calling about SB679, known as the “The Clean Drinking Water of 2020.” It protects drinking water by regulating PFAS chemicals, sets maximum PFAS contaminant levels, requiring PFAS chemicals to be reported by businesses which use them, and creates a PFAS response team. I serve as a sponsor of the legislation and support it fully. Unfortunately, Senate leadership thus far refuses to run the bill. We will keep fighting for clean water.

PROTEST BILL. Titled “The West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act,” the bill creates new criminal and civil penalties for individuals/organizations found guilty of criminal conduct during demonstrations that cause damage to critical infrastructure. In other words, they want to stiffen penalties for people protesting pipelines. I oppose the bill because anyone who chooses to protest a pipeline in their backyard is exercising their freedom of speech and can be charged with a crime if they are on someone else’s property. There’s no need to rub salt in the wound with bills like this.

JUDICIAL PAY RAISE. I voted against an average 18% raise for judicial officers (with a total cost of $6 million) this week. While our judges and magistrates hold important and difficult jobs and are overdue for a raise, such a large increase (during a tight budget year) is irresponsible. If a 5% raise was proposed, like public employees received last year, that would be fair. But an 18% raise is not.

WATER/SEWER. Our aging water/sewer systems desperately need funding. Customers of municipal water systems and PSDs know this merely by looking at their bills. In response, the Senate passed a bill this week to make an additional $12 million available annually for the repair of water/sewer systems. It’s my hope this is the first step towards investing more in our water/sewer systems.

DILAPIDATED BUILDINGS. Similarly, we also badly need funds to tear down dilapidated buildings. These are abandoned buildings without owners that are a blight on our communities. Tens of thousands exist across the state. We passed a bill this week creating a program for the state to tear them down. What we still need is funding to make it happen.

That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you!

Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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