The sixty day 2018 West Virginia Legislative session is just past the half point. I am on the Finance Committee and the vast majority of my time has been spent listening to budget hearings for the many agencies in state government. This is similar to doing your household budget; you calculate what your income will be for the year, you figure what your expenses are, then you make adjustments. There have been several politically driven attempts to increase spending before we completed the hearings; I have cast votes to refer all legislation to the appropriate committees so we can make informed decisions.
At the end of the week, once budget hearings wrapped up, the House passed a bill to provide for $2,000 pay raises for the next three years for corrections officers who have regular contact with inmates. This was the recommendation of the Governor and the Department of Corrections. Corrections officers have not gotten a raise in about twenty years.
In SB 267, which just passed House Finance, State Police will get a raise of 3% , or $864 the first year, and $432 the second year. Also teaches will receive a 5% raise over 4 years, or $808 the first year, and $404 for the next three years. This is on top of the annual “step” raise of approximately $500 every year, which has been in place for decades, and is paid to over 96% of teachers. Service Personnel will also receive 3% over two years. All of these raises are ongoing “base building” raises, as opposed to one time bonuses. I voted yes on this bill.
Other state employees, not mentioned above, are expected to receive a 1% raise which will be built in to the budgets of each state agency; meaning that there will not be individual bills to approve these raises; they will become law when members of the House support the budget bill. By the way; Legislators are state employees, but we will not be receiving any pay increases.
Besides budgetary issues and pay raises, I have worked in committee to pass bills to require part time employment or volunteer work before able bodied people who do not have a dependent can qualify for welfare programs. This legislation also provides for fraud investigations to combat misuse of taxpayer money.
A couple other important bills are: 1) The House passed a bill to ensure that voters will have equal and local representation in the form of single member districts. 2) The House Health Committee passed legislation to reduce over-prescription of commonly abused drugs.
Remember, I am only reporting on House bills here. In the next couple weeks House bills will go to the Senate for consideration, and Senate bills will come to us. The Governor also has to sign the bills that pass both Houses before they become law. The effective date for most laws is July 1, 2018.
Over the last two weeks I have been invited to attend meeting with teachers and service personnel in Mason, and Putnam Counties. I have attended to offer information and hear participants concerns and viewpoints. Working with legislative leaders and the Governor, the Public Employees Insurance Director has agreed to maintain rates and services as they have been prior to the proposed changes. In other words, no rate increases or benefit reductions; we had to allocate an additional $29 million dollars into PEIA to accomplish this, and it was a response to concerns we heard from public employees. As mentioned above, pay raises are working their way through the process.
I would like to assure everyone that I am very sensitive to the situation, of public employees. I am also making decisions with the well-being of our entire community in mind, as well as every West Virginian. I thank everyone who has reached out to me to offer suggestions and voice concerns; I take all of them in advisement. I also ask that everyone continue to pray for the USA, for West Virginia, and for all of our representatives and leaders.
It is an honor to serve you.
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry), represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.