Saturday, April 1, 2023

From Behind the Podium: Healthcare, Prison Overcrowding Top House Agenda


The first week of the legislative session is always exciting and hectic, as committees meet for the first time and get organized, members and staff prepare legislation to be introduced, and the Governor’s bills make their way to both houses for consideration.

In the midst of the rush, I have enjoyed getting to know the 21 new members of the House of Delegates and welcoming back three members who have returned after an absence from legislative office.

In the years I have been Speaker, I have found an open-door policy to be extremely rewarding and our free and open debate to be both refreshing and productive. I continue to value input from our experienced members and look forward to gaining ideas and perspective from our newcomers.

The House has undergone other changes, including the addition of a fifth major committee. In recognition of vast health care needs and challenges West Virginians face, I elevated the House Health Committee to a major standing committee, giving it the workload and status equal to the Finance, Judiciary, Education and Government Organization committees.

Consequently, the Health Committee is meeting more frequently, which has meant an adjusted meeting schedule for all committees.

I also established a bipartisan panel to delve into issues raised by the Governor’s Education Efficiency Audit and prepare for Governor Tomblin’s resulting legislation.

I want to ensure that all House of Delegates are up to date and knowledgeable of what the audit recommends and what is needed to improve upon our education environment here – so they can make an informed decision.

As we receive the Governor’s legislation, Senate President Kessler and I consult and agree on which of those bills each body will take up first. While legislators and staff in both houses study all the Governor’s bills and gather information, it is more efficient to designate one to take the lead on an individual piece of legislation.

For instance, the House is tackling the state budget.

We have to continually stretch our tax dollars, particularly this year. We’ve got a massive Medicaid shortfall to contend with and no new revenue sources expected. In preparation, many state agencies have had to cut their budgets by 7.5 percent, but more challenges lie ahead.

Also challenging is the state’s looming prison overcrowding problem. I know many House members are eager to receive the Governor’s public safety legislation as it emerges from the Senate.

It is my understanding that Governor Tomblin will draw from the recent Justice Reinvestment Report issued by the CSG Justice Center.

Our primary goal is to find ways to reduce jail costs for our counties, but also ensure that dangerous criminals are kept behind bars.

We are seeking ways to better address the insidious substance abuse problem in our state, which has in large part led to overcrowded jails and more crime, through better treatment programs and probation.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Governor’s list of 20-plus bills before us, lawmakers are introducing hundreds of their own pieces of legislation for consideration during this session. We have a great deal of work ahead of us, and I look forward to providing updates on our progress.

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