By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Ryan Ferns has been tapped to be the West Virginia Senate’s next majority leader, and he hinted he may not be the only member of the Northern Panhandle delegation taking a leadership position when the Legislature convenes in January.
Ferns, a Republican from Wheeling in Ohio County, confirmed Monday he was selected majority leader by Senate Republicans as state lawmakers continue to caucus in Charleston this week.
The GOP caucus also has chosen Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, to be the new Senate president.
Ferns said other leadership positions in the Senate are still being determined, but Sens.-elect Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, and Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, should find themselves in top positions during their freshman terms.
“Absolutely, the Northern Panhandle will be well-represented,” he said. “Ryan Weld and Mike Maroney are expected to be in leadership roles, but I can’t say anything yet. We’ve been in meetings all day today, and we are still ironing out the details.”
Ferns suggested the background of each new senator could serve them well in their elected positions. Weld, a current member of the House of Delegates, is an attorney who serves as assistant prosecutor in Brooke County. Maroney, meanwhile, is chairman of radiology at Reynolds Memorial and Wetzel County hospitals.
Ferns is a physical therapist who owns his own clinic in Benwood.
He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2010 as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP side of the aisle just prior to winning a Senate seat as a Republican in 2014.
The top priority of the GOP-led Legislature next year will be job creation, according to Ferns.
“Our top priority is going to be job creation and job growth,” he said. “What we hear from people is that this is what is important, and I do believe jobs are paramount for combating all the other problems we face in the state.”
Among the issues most pressing in West Virginia are a raging drug epidemic, a growing budget deficit, a declining population and heath care concerns.
The Republican-led Legislature also will continue its path toward legal reforms, according to Ferns. He noted last year was the first time West Virginia was missing from the “judicial hellhole” list compiled by the American Tort Reform Foundation.
While state lawmakers also have taken steps in recent years to improve West Virginia’s business climate, there has been little emphasis on making changes to the state’s education structure, he said.
“We have a top-heavy education system at this point,” Ferns said. “We need to decentralize the state Department of Education and give more local authority to the counties. We are spending a tremendous amount of resources on education. If we eliminate waste, there could be room to give the teachers a wage increase.”
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