The Back Pew – April 22nd, 2017

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Since coming home from Charleston last week, I’ve had time to get some sleep, reflect on the legislative session, and talk with folks here in the Greenbrier Valley. Many of the same questions keep arising, so they’ll form the basis of this week’s column.

DID YOU ENJOY IT?  Yes, being your delegate and going to work every day at the capitol on your behalf was a true honor! I met some good people from across the state who genuinely want the best for West Virginia, and they work towards that in the democratic process. My respect for our state and our institutions only grew during this process.

WAS IT FRUSTRATING?  Absolutely. When you put 100 strong-willed people in one room and give them 60 days to finish a job – with cameras watching every move, it’s bound to be frustrating at times. Most legislators handled the pressure gracefully and strived to be good neighbors. Of course, some did not…and caused significant heartburn. But there are bad apples in every bunch. The trick is not allowing the bad apples to define the whole crop.

DID YOU DO ANY GOOD? Yes, we passed several pieces of positive legislation aimed at increasing the number of drug treatment beds, making high speed internet more readily available, giving felons a second chance, allowing voters to decide on a major road bond, establishing a Flood Protection Council, and limiting campaigning during the legislative session.

DID YOU DEFEAT ANY BAD BILLS?  I’d always heard legislators say their biggest accomplishments were often defeating bad legislation. Now I understand! We defeated several mean-spirited bills. For example, one would have declared government spending on wages for projects (such as road-building) confidential, meaning the public wouldn’t know how their tax dollars were being spent. Another bill which would have made it easier for counties to consolidate schools was defeated after heated debate. Lastly, an effort to devalue property rights for gas companies to allow “forced pooling,” “co-tenancy,” and “joint development” died in committee after strident opposition.

WHAT WILL YOU DO NOW? Stay active! If you need assistance on an issue or belong to a community group, be in touch. The more I know about what is going on across the district, the better I can represent you.

SO…WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WITH THE BUDGET? Governor Justice will likely call us back into session later this spring, but I think that will only happen if/when a framework deal is in place. A prolonged special session will only cost money and waste time. The other option is that the legislature can call itself back into session (if 60% of the members sign a petition).  That option is less likely because I’m not sure 60% would agree to it, and it would still be a waste of time and money. The attraction of that option for legislative leadership is that if they call themselves back into session, they can set the agenda…and potentially overturn vetoes by the Governor or introduce new legislation.

That’s the view from the back pew this week. Be well, friends!

(Delegate Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and member of the WV House. You may reach him at 304-404-4207 or stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov)