The Back Pew

By Stephen Baldwin

Things are moving in Charleston! Some bad things, some good things, and some I’m not quite sure about yet! Many of you have written, emailed, and called with questions about particular issues. Here’s an overview of several major issues under consideration.

COMMUNITY & TECHNICAL COLLEGE. The Senate is leading a bipartisan effort with Gov. Justice to provide our students interested in learning a trade with scholarships to our community and technical colleges. Students must pass a drug test, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and stay in state for two years practicing their trade…and their tuition would be paid for in full. This would provide us a drug-free, skilled, trained workforce ready to fill good jobs!

STATE PARKS. Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher is proposing to allow increased timbering of state parks. (Not state forests, just state parks.) I read the bill (SB270) in full yesterday, because some folks are worried it will hurt our state parks. It allows the Division of Forestry to harvest as much as four trees per acre on average in state parks. Those trees must be a certain height and circumference. All funds raised from the increased timbering is required to go back into maintenance and renovation of state parks to make them even better tourist destinations. I also called our local foresters, and they were adamant that this is a good thing in terms of the overall health of our forests. Let’s keep an eye on this.

SUPREME COURT SPENDING. After the absurd spending of the Supreme Court was revealed this fall (with a single couch costing taxpayers $32,000, not to mention the $1,700 pillows), interest began to grow in a question I asked last year as a freshman: Why is judicial spending treated differently than every other department of state government? It would require a constitutional amendment to make this change, so the residents of WV would have to agree to it.

BUSINESS & INVENTORY TAX. Another potential constitutional amendment centers on the infamous Business & Inventory Tax. Most everyone agrees that it’s a regressive tax. However, counties and boards of education receive significant support from it. Senate President Carmichael has proposed reducing it by $20 million per year. Without replacing that revenue, though, counties and schools would either face major cuts or would be forced to drastically increase county-level property taxes. Either option is unacceptable. We must find a better solution.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. Everyone agrees we have a prescription drug problem. It is literally killing us. What are we going to do about it? Many argue, rightly, that we need more treatment centers and stiffer penalties for dealers. Other states found success in a third way–limiting the length of opioid prescriptions for all non-chronic pain so people don’t get hooked in the first place. I proposed such a bill last year, and it is gaining momentum this year. Those with chronic pain and cancer, for example, would be exempt. But those who go to the ER or have surgery and face acute (temporary) pain, could only get three or seven days of opioids. Many doctors are already doing this.

I didn’t cover the silly bills (like 80MPH speed limits which have been proposed), because most sensational bills you read about in the papers won’t go anywhere. I’m focused on the serious issues that matter to our residents. That’s the view from the back pew.

Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor. Reach him at 304-404-4207 or Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @BaldwinForWV.

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