The 60-day session of the West Virginia Legislature is past the half way mark. We have been very busy working on many issues while at the same time reviewing budgetary items. There are still many things to consider but this week the Legislature presented a framework for our budget which is much different than the Governor’s. It is important to remember that we are working on the 2018 year budget, and we have to work off of projected “income” which we refer to as revenue.
The revenue that is expected to come in to the state is four billion dollars. Last month the Governor submitted a budget that would spend four billion, five hundred million dollars. In order to spend that amount he proposed shifting of money from some accounts, plus three hundred eighteen million dollars of tax increases on West Virginians.
In contrast; the budget proposed by the Legislature uses a method that most of us use in our own households, we spend only what we expect to have in our account. At current tax rates we expect the government to collect four billion dollars, and we plan to spend only what we have. In order to do that, we are going to have to take control of government spending. That means that we can no longer fund programs in one agency that are duplicated in another, and it means that we have to make difficult decisions as to what we can afford.
We still have a lot of work to do as we finish up the last 30 days of the session, both on details of the budget, and on other legislation.
Recent legislation passing the House has been:
HB 2367 it establishes a criminal offense of organized retail crime. That may be something like a pawn shop owner setting up an arrangement to have people steal items with the intention of then selling those items in his stores. I voted yes.
HB 2579 increases penalties for transporting controlled substances. It requires intend to deliver or manufacture. In other words it increases penalties for bringing illegal drugs into West Virginia with the intent of selling them to our kids. I voted yes.
HB2329 relating to prohibiting the manufacture, delivery, possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, and transport fentanyl into West Virginia. You may remember reading that fentanyl was associated with the overdoses of 27 people in Huntington in less than one day. I voted yes.
HB2542 gives institutions of higher education more authority in human resources and personnel. This will allow them to control costs better while still providing education opportunities to students. I voted yes.
HB2083 passed the House; it increases the felony criminal penalties for exposing children to methamphetamine manufacturing. I voted yes.
HB 2506 passed, it changes the method for measuring discharges into waterways to comply with Environmental Protection Agency standards. It allows flow rates to be measured at an average flow rate rather than a minimal flow rate. This bill can allow for increased manufacturing opportunities in West Virginia while still meeting EPA clean water standards. I voted yes.
The House of Delegates also considered a routine bill, HB2526, to review classifications for legal prescription drugs. An amendment was offered that would have reclassified Marijuana from a schedule I, or illegal drug, to a schedule IV, which is relatively loosely regulated. There was no research, or expert testimony offered in support of the amendment. I voted against it because I have read up on the issue previously. Scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration say that, at this time, there is no way to safely prescribe smoking a drug that has such variations in potency, and over four hundred different chemicals. Most medical professionals I have spoken with point out that there are ways to extract the beneficial properties and put them in to a pill or oil form; the underlying bill provides for that. Additionally, historical evidence indicates that this is primarily a stepping stone to legalizing marijuana for “recreational” purposes. Recognizing that drug abuse is one of West Virginia’s, biggest problems I could not support normalizing an activity that compounds one of our most serious problems.
On a happier note; I have been very happy to see many students from Putnam and Mason Counties as they help us with the Page Program. It truly is an honor to serve you, please continue to pray for me and for my colleagues here.
Delegate Jim Butler
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry) represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.