by Stephen Baldwin
Last week, I asked my wife how her day had been. She said, “Busy, but I didn’t get much accomplished.” That appropriately describes the atmosphere at the Capitol right now.
BUDGET. On Wednesday the Senate passed a compromise revenue bill (which I described in detail two weeks ago). It raises some taxes, cuts other taxes, maintains funding for arts/Medicaid/schools, builds roads, and balances the budget next year. The House has yet to consider it. In fact, the House has yet to consider any revenue or budget bill – from Governor Justice or from their own GOP leadership. There has been talk of sending us all home to allow leaders to work out a deal, but that has yet to happen. If we don’t approve a revenue and budget bill by Friday evening, I expect we will recess again.
LEGISLATOR PAY. All of this busyness without results is expensive. I introduced a bill to limit legislator pay in special sessions. We shouldn’t get paid twice for failing to do the job right the first time. Speaker Armstead referred it to the Finance Committee, and they have not even put it on an agenda, much less voted on it. As I suspected, they are ignoring the bill. I will raise the issue on the floor once again to ask why. We all talk about wanting to eliminate waste, and here is our chance.
WORKER PROTECTIONS. Gov. Justice introduced a “furlough” bill on Tuesday to protect state workers. In the event of a government shutdown, all state employees would be laid off, forego pay, and lose accrued seniority. A furlough bill would change all that by requiring certain safety-related sectors such as the state police to continue working, provide back pay, and allow employees to retain their seniority when recalled. This is vital to have in place should a shutdown occur. It passed the Judiciary Committee and could come for a full vote now at anytime. I still refuse to believe a shutdown will happen, but it is prudent to plan ahead for the sake of worker protections.
STUDENTS VISIT FROM RUPERT. The highlight of my day on Wednesday was a visit from the third graders at Rupert Elementary. They came to tour the Capitol and learn about state government. I was impressed by their questions, their excitement, and their ideas for improving West Virginia, which included, “more homes for people,” “protecting the planet,” and “getting rid of drugs.” Those students are wise beyond their years!
PRAYER. On Thursday, I led the opening prayer on the House floor with a simple message based on Isaiah 59: Repair the breach. Stop pointing fingers, quit saying mean things, and remember what you are called to do. Repair the breach! I ask you to join in that prayer for our state, our nation, and our world. And do your part to provide healing in the broken places.
Until next week, that’s the view from the back pew in Charleston. Take care!
(Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and Delegate to the WV House. You may reach him at 304-340-3131 or email@example.com)