The Back Pew – March 11th, 2017

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Thanks to everyone who attended last weekend’s town hall meetings across the district! We will certainly do that again. Now, to the week’s top issues at the Capitol…

BUDGET: Gov. Justice has released two budgets. Legislative leaders, while critical of his plans, have yet to release their own. (Some Senate Republicans introduced a framework where the income tax would be repealed and the sales tax increased dramatically, but this approach would incur more debt and hit working families hardest. Therefore, I don’t expect it to advance.) House Republicans say their budget plan,comprised heavily of cuts,is forthcoming this week. Stay tuned.

I continue to hear everyday from constituents that they want a fair, balanced budget on time. We have yet to deliver. People are starting to fear a government shutdown due to our inability to strike compromise. The longer this process takes, the more uncertainty we face.

WATER QUALITY STANDARDS: Last week the House considered bill 2506, relating to water quality standards. The bill allows more pollutants in our water, though the bill’s sponsors said it did “not lower our water quality standards.” That makes no sense! We need clean water, and we have no business allowing more pollutants in our water. That’s bad for our people, land, and any chance we have of attracting new businesses. So I voted against the bill. Unfortunately, it passed and is now in the Senate. If you don’t want more pollutants in your water, please call your senators.

DRUG DEBATES: For the past two weeks, almost every day has brought a floor debate over which direction drug policy in West Virginia should take. Questions debated include: Are mandatory minimum penalties a deterrent or a failed relic of the past? How can we ensure that law enforcement gets the people trafficking the drugs rather than the users who are addicted? What about treatment? Isn’t that what will do the most good for our families that have been torn apart? So why aren’t we putting our money where our mouth is and funding treatment?

Plenty of penalty bills have been passed adding huge mandatory minimum sentences. However, we have passed no bills relating to treatment. If we fail to address the drug problem comprehensively, we fail. I’ll be pushing for an emphasis on treatment and funding for treatment for the rest of the session.

CAMPAIGNING DISTANCE LIMITS: Over my objections, the House passed a bill last week changing the distance in which campaigning is allowed near polling places from 300 feet to 100 feet. I feel strongly that political advertisements already pollute our communities at election time. We should not allow that to be closer to polling places. However, the House passed the bill at the urging of the Judiciary Committee chair who felt recent court decisions invalidated our 300 foot rule.

As we pass the halfway mark of the 2017 legislative session, that’s the view from the back pew in Charleston.

(Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and delegate to the WV House. You may reach him at 304-340-3131 or stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov)