By Senator Stephen Baldwin
People aren’t paying attention. That’s the conclusion I’ve reluctantly drawn, because I’m receiving far fewer calls, emails, and letters than usual. Visitors aren’t currently allowed at the capitol. Very few people are tuning into the livestreams or our virtual meetings. The media isn’t present to document the session like usual. Even social media engagement is down this year.
I certainly understand why. We are all just trying to keep our head above water right now. But you need to pay attention to what’s happening in Charleston. The ramifications of several policy changes will affect our families for years to come.
RURAL HOSPITALS. Current state law requires hospitals to hold a “certificate of need” for the services they provide. The idea is to keep rural hospitals open and operating efficiently. If a certificate of need wasn’t required in rural areas, you’d see rural hospitals close and small medical offices pop up all over the place offering various small medical services. HB2264 removes the requirement for a certificate of need. I cannot overemphasize how deadly this policy change would be. None of our local hospitals would be able to stay open if this bill were to pass. They all strongly oppose the bill. Hospitals are often one of the largest employers in the county they serve. The bill passed the House last week and now heads to the Senate.
WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. Every year, there’s an effort to decrease water quality standards by legislators who are close to industries who discharge pollutants. It’s happening again this year, and again I will oppose it. We need clean water for so many reasons – drinking water, fishing, rafting, economic development, tourism, and more.
HARM REDUCTION. County health departments across the state operate “harm reduction” programs. They are substance abuse disorder programs intended to limit the spread of HIV among citizens. And they’ve proven to be highly successful. Unfortunately, one senator has made it his life’s mission to eliminate them. He introduced such a bill this year, and it is moving towards passage in the Senate (SB13).
ATMs IN CASINOS. To my utter shock and dismay, this week the Senate passed SB358 allowing casinos to place ATMs on the casino floor. This has been prohibited up until now to keep people from losing everything they have. March is national Problem Gambling Awareness Month. One in 50 West Virginians has a gambling problem, which wrecks families. We should be ashamed for making a bill like this, which doesn’t reflect our West Virginia values, a priority this early in the legislative session.
VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOLS. Despite near unanimous agreement from students, parents, and teachers that virtual education has not worked during COVID, the Senate passed a bill allowing new virtual charter schools. They are allowed to enroll up to 26,000+ students in virtual programs. It will cost in the neighborhood of $200 million. And it didn’t even go to the Finance Committee for review!
Pay attention, folks. The long-term ramifications of these bills are colossal. They will affect our families for years to come. Do what you can to make your voice heard to your representatives, and I will keep doing what I can to represent you.
That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you!
(Senator Stephen Baldwin is the Minority Leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV)