By JIM WORKMAN
West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Issues from the current West Virginia Legislative Session — along with panel discussions on Improving our Highways, West Virginia Power Plants and the Opioid Epidemic — highlighted Thursday’s West Virginia Press Association 2018 Legislative Breakfast at Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston.
“We had a great turnout of legislators and media,” Smith added. “It was a great day to get insight from a variety of panels.”
House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, discussed what he called four pillars of importance, now five, including the drug epidemic.
Regarding tax structure, “There’s momentum to get this passed,” Armstead said of eliminating the existing personal property tax on equipment inventory.
“There’s a reasonable way to do this to keep our school systems whole,” said Armstead. “It’s important to the economic future of our state. It’s simply an unfair tax that a lot of states have done away with. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
Of legal regulatory climate, Armstead called it “a black mark on our state, putting us at a disadvantage when attracting business to our state.
“We’ve taken steps, but we need to make more,” he added. “We’re one of the most overregulated state’s in the country. We can change that in a reasonable way
Keeping young people in our state requires improve education, Armstead said
“Education is important, both k-12 and higher education,” he stated. “Teachers need more autonomy to teach. We can all point to a teacher that helped us along the way. They don’t need to be micro-managed from Charleston.”
Teacher and public employee pay raises are on the front burner in Charleston, Armstead pledged.
“We’re working day and night at the Capitol,” he said. “We want to give them the best advantage with the resources we have. We’re having very productive conversations and I believe we’re moving forward in a positive way. I think we’ll be able to resolve it.
Passing a very historic road bond last fall was an improvement to the state’s infrastructure issues, Armstead said.
“We need to make sure the dollars are spent efficiently and ethically,” he added. “That’s our responsibility.
The drug epidemic in West Virginia needs to be attacked from various angles, Armstead said.
“Preventing children from being addicted in the first place,” he said. “We have to do all we can.
For those addicted, how can we help free them from their addiction? It’s a difficult path. We need to fund that with the most effective resources we can. We can utilize federal funding.
We also need to crack down on those (drug dealers) who want to use West Virginia to traffic drugs.”
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Of the road bond passage, Secretary Tom Smith of the West Virginia Department of Transportation promised work is about to begin.
“You’ll see a lot of work starting once the weather turns,” he said, adding 12 interstate projects will begin soon.
Prospective workers will have an opportunity to learn of availability of positions at a Job Fair Feb. 16 at BridgeValley Community and Technical College, Smith said.
“The human part of (the road bond) is people finding jobs,” he said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity for people to find work.”
Jobs will come in waves, said Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia.
“We must have a trained workforce,” White added, with preference to West Virginia workers. “It’s incumbent on us to make sure we meet requirements.”
Apprenticeship is one path being planned toward having a ready workforce with skilled laborers, White said.
Transportation is of great importance to businesses looking to locate in West Virginia, said Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractor’s Association of West Virginia.
“Without the I-81 and I-77 interstates, Procter & Gamble wouldn’t have located (a plant being built in the eastern panhandle) in West Virginia,” Clowser said.
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Angela Vance, AARP-WV government relations representative, spoke on issues concerning seniors in the state.
Key issues for AARP members include caregiving, retirement security and financial exploitation security, she said.
An estimated 40 million Americans are providing care for another, she stated. Home based care is increasing, and is important for those receiving care, Vance said.
Eliminating income taxes on Social Security remains a goal, she added.
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Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association spoke on the state of coal and energy in the Mountain State.
“We lost half of production and half of workforce – about 75,000 jobs, over the last eight years,” he said.
“We think we’ve plateaued,” he added, citing new mines, regulatory changes and market opportunities overseas.
“We hope to remain viable,” Hamilton said. “We’re still a pretty substantial industry in West Virginia. We think we’ll be around a while. We think we can hire some of those people back. We’re making progress.”
Charlie Burd, executive director of IOGA WV said West Virginia is sitting on “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” citing the Utica and Marcellus shales.
Plants in Marshall County and Harrison counties are under the permitting process and hopefully will be under construction soon, Burd added.
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West Virginia leads the nation in overdose deaths, said Jim Berry, medical director of the CRC and Inpatient Acute Dual Diagnosis Program at WVU.
“We are truly in the middle of a crisis,” he said, “Treatment works. We have the tools and compass to bring them back. Lives can be turned around. They can contribute to society. We need more access to good, quality treatment.”
Frankie Tack, clinical assistant professor and addiction studies minor coordinator at West Virginia University said a robust legislative response is happening now.
“Our state community has made their needs known. We need the funding and laws in place to do the things needed.”
Pending legislation could do a lot to turn things around, she said.
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The event was live streamed on the West Virginia Press Association page on Facebook an will be archived there and on wvpress.org for viewing to the public. The presentations and panels will be also be featured on the newspaper industry’s new video program, West Virginia Press Insight, which is able on West Virginia Press Association’s Facebook page, Youtube channel and on select newspaper websites across the state.