CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Given the tide-turning November elections and the exceptional class of incoming legislators, expectations were high for the 81st Legislature. Now that the 2015 session is complete, it is the opinion of many Capitol-watchers that we have witnessed the most productive and efficiently run 60-day legislative session the state has experienced in recent memory.
Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead assembled leadership teams comprised of hard-working, dedicated leaders from around the state. These brave public servants focused on jobs, educational initiatives, legal fairness and the state’s economy.
Legislative leadership ran the session like a good business. They outlined priorities, assigned work efficiently between the two bodies – the Senate and House – and they worked together to get things done. In fact, unlike most legislative sessions, consideration on major pieces of legislation began immediately upon session kickoff on January 14 and didn’t end until midnight March 14.
Gone was the mentality of spending the first 30 days socializing and easing into the work of session. This new Legislature took the voters’ charge seriously. The lawmakers — and their dedicated, talented staff members — worked hard from the beginning.
While leadership within the minority party tried to thwart progress on several major initiatives, most rank-and-file Democrats worked cooperatively and tirelessly with their Republican counterparts to pass pro-jobs, pro-business legislation that will move the state forward. And Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin deserves praise for his willingness to work across party lines to do what is in the best interest of the state and its people.
Legal reform was a key agenda item this session, and the results are nothing less than historic. A few of the major pieces of legislation that passed – most with significant bi-partisan support – include: Comparative Fault & Joint/Several Liability, Deliberate Intent, Medical Professional Liability, Non-Partisan Election of Judges, Open & Obvious Doctrine, Punitive Damage Caps, Trespasser Liability, and Asbestos Trust Fund Reform.
Make no mistake, these “legal fairness” initiatives bring West Virginia’s laws in line with other states, make us more competitive and send the message that the state is open for business.
A host of significant legislation passed on the business and industrial development front. Just a few of these initiatives include: Prevailing Wage Reform, Auto Dealer Franchise Protections, Coal Jobs & Safety Act, Environmental Regulatory Updates, Industrial Property Protection, Repeal of Energy Portfolio Standards, Storage Tank Regulation, Teacher Certification Expansion, and Wage Payment Updates.
These laws remove barriers to competitiveness, incentivize job growth and instill fairness into West Virginia’s regulatory programs. Granted, those who oppose change and progress are singing a different tune to any media outlet that will listen. But take it from those of us who know a little something about providing jobs, making payroll and competing on an increasingly national and international scale – what the Legislature accomplished this year is remarkable.
As is unfortunately always the case, not all important legislation passed this session. After receiving the support of farmers, mineral and land owners and the natural gas industry and passing both chambers, the Lease Integration, aka Fair Pooling, bill died on the last night of the session, and this death was far more about politics than policy, as often is the case in the final hours of session. Legislation to allow charter schools and other education reform also failed to make it to the finish line. These and other important bills that did not make it to passage remain goals for next year. We need our legislative leaders to continue their efforts to pass these bills for the continual improvement of our state and its people.
All in all, President Cole and Speaker Armstead deserve high praise for their efforts, as do most all members of the 81st Legislature. Remember, this leadership team did not have decades of experience running the Legislature and years to refine their agendas. In a matter of weeks, Cole and Armstead created a structure that exceeded all expectations. And now that these folks have experience under their belts, their pro-West Virginia agenda has momentum to move the state forward.