It has been a busy week at the Legislature as we continue to work through the governor’s budget for 2017 and fill holes in the 2016 budget that was caused, in large part, by the loss of thousands of coal mining jobs.
Adding to the problems, relatively low energy prices have driven the price of natural gas down, which has also slowed everything down in the gas industry. That means the state collects less in severance taxes, which are among our biggest sources of revenue. We are identifying and redirecting money from unnecessary accounts to where it is needed.
We are required by the state Constitution to balance the budget, and unlike the federal government, we cannot print money. We are doing all we can to avoid raising taxes because we know that you have to balance your budget, too.
We are working on plans to get more funding to the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which has not been adequately funded for many years. That plan can only be finalized at the end of the session as we put the budget bill together.
Along with that we, actually taxpayers, are still paying for other promises made decades ago but that were not properly funded. On the bright side, we are getting very close to paying off a long-term debt for unfunded workers compensation liabilities, which will free up money for future state budgets. We have also passed several major bills to help get West Virginia’s economy moving.
Of course, that is going to take a while to “turn the ship around” and get sailing toward sunnier shores, so to speak.
Legislation to pass the House this week included HB 2852, which allows businesses with a proper license to sell fireworks. Two-thirds of that tax revenue will be directed to a fund to build a veteran’s hospital and the other one-third goes to a Fire Protection Fund.
HB 2615 will help with small business start-ups by reducing regulations related to investing. It allows for exemptions to securities registration for investment in amounts of $10,000 or less. So if you are starting or expanding a small business, it can be easier for people to invest in your business. This is commonly called “crowdfunding.”
HB 3019 requires that official state business be conducted in the English language. Other languages may be used when necessary but this ensures that English is the “official” language of the state and subdivisions.
HB 4013 requires that a picture ID be presented in order to vote. There are provisions for persons who do not have an ID to get one for free, and other exceptions are provided for if necessary.
HB 4174 allows firearms to be used in indoor shooting ranges, within 500 feet of other buildings, as long as they meet safety and sound regulations.
HB 4228 allows for a new kind of transportation service. Basically, it is a taxi service that requires accessibility via a website or “app” where the customer is given the price in advance and pays by electronic means, like a credit card. It is a service that could be very useful in areas that do not have taxi service, or not enough taxis. It also is a way for people to earn a living, or supplement their income, by using their private vehicle to help people get around.
We also passed dozens of other bills mostly of an administrative nature. I voted yes on all of the ones mentioned above.
I continue to have many guests from Mason and Putnam Counties, including very bright students helping with the page program, and Youth in Government.
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