By JEFF BAUGHAN
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials were invited, noticed and paid a visit.
The annual day, which Jill Parsons, chamber president and CEO, said was the seventh such day, received visits from local and state elected representatives. As things wound down, she said, “this day accomplished what we had hoped it would. We had a lot of chamber officials down here who got to meet with the officials and see how things happen.”
Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, issued a word of advice but also served as a warning to chamber members. “It helps when you can put a face with a problem,” he said.
“Don’t wait until you have a legislative emergency before you make contact with a legislative representative,” Criss said.
Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, gave an update to House Bill 2428, which is dealing with drug treatment instead of other legal ways with the drug problem in West Virginia.
“The House bill is the only one introduced in the House or Senate which deals with treatment,” said Kelly while speaking to the chamber members. “You know we have a problem, I don’t need to tell you that. The bill is looking for 600 beds for treatment. Right now, it’s being held in finance committee. We have found the money for it because it is expensive. We have to keep it captive for the bill.”
Kelly said the money would come from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s drug lawsuit triumphs. “It’s the only bill that would get the money because it has to do with drug treatment.”
Criss said there had been “over 2,000 pieces of legislation so far. That will be pared down to about 200 by the time we get to the end of the session.”
“Every bill goes back to the budget,” Kelly added. “And it’s going to be in the 11th hour of the session before anything you see a firm budget. You can’t complete a budget until every bill is finished. Every bill will require a budget amendment as every one affects that budget. So if you’re watching for the budget, wait until the 59th day of the session to see something of substance.”
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael of Jackson County said this week’s Republican budget framework “was bold and aggressive. We can spend no more than what we have. It is what it is.”
Concerning Gov. Jim Justice, Carmichael said, “Kudos to Governor Justice for staking his ground with his budget. Now we are nowhere near Defcon 4 or anything like that. You can raise taxes and expand government or we can live within our confines.”
Carmichael made mention of higher education cuts and used West Virginia University as an example. “If we were to cut its state aid $25 million-$28 million, that’s only three percent of its operating budget.”
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased to see the chamber delegation in Charleston. “I like to see chambers visit,” he said. “I applaud them for making the visit.”
The visit is beneficial as it puts chamber members before those state and local representatives who would soon make their visit, Roberts said.
“They (the Legislature) are doing some things right now that are flying below the radar and not getting the attention it should,” Roberts said, “but that day will soon come about. Right now, we’re trying to get ourselves back to the middle instead of always being at the bottom. If we can get back to the middle, we can compete with anyone.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told the chamber members the state “has suffered under antiquated rules for many years.” He said the state has been successful in moving out from some regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, “which had been strangling our economy.”
Morrisey said the oil and gas industry had received help with some restrictions eased and moving away from the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, “which had the federal government trying to regulate the creek moving through someone’s property the same as they regulated the Ohio River.”
Secretary of State Mac Warner said West Virginia needed to be “moving at the speed of business,” and “the state needs to stay open until the need is met.”
“We’re trying to set up a one-stop shop for the office instead of having to go to four different offices to get things done efficiently,” Warner said. “We want to have one website with the four portals but each department has its own website right now, but we’re working on it. Just like we worked on getting those names removed from the voting rolls who weren’t eligible to vote.”
Warner was referring to the more than 36,000 names removed from the voter registration rolls since he took office.
“We took the names off the rolls which is going to increase the percentage of people who actually voted,” he said. “That’s going to bring about greater confidence in the people’s vote. It’s going to let them know their vote matters.”
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