(Editor’s note: This column was originally submitted for publication consideration on Jan. 23 and discusses issues prior to that date.)
The West Virginia Legislature has been in session for just two weeks. The West Virginia Constitution directs that the Legislature will meet for 60 days, so we will be in session until at least March 10th.
Most deliberation on bills is done in committee; we have 20 committees in the House. Committees are made up of approximately 25 members each. My committee assignments this year are Finance, Education, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, and Technology and Infrastructure. The committees hear expert testimony, and carefully consider bills that are assigned to them. There are typically around 2,000 bills drafted and introduced each year; we usually consider fewer than 300, and eventually pass around 200 each legislative session.
If a bill passes the first committee most then go to a second committee. The second committee is usually Judicial, or Finance. Bills are rarely referred to a third committee. If a bill can make it through all the committees it then goes to the House floor to be voted upon on the “House Floor” by all one hundred House members. If the bill passes it is sent to the Senate to go through the entire process again. Finally, if the bill passed the House and the Senate it goes to the Governor where he can sign it into law, not sign it (making it law) or veto the bill. There are exceptions throughout this process, but this is generally how legislation is passed. We usually start the session out by passing bills which are not complex, and which don’t have much of an impact on the budget because the Finance Committee is still receiving budget presentations.
Bills which have passed the House include HB 2164 which clarifies that appeals to the State Supreme Court are a right, and that every party to a lawsuit will obtain a written decision on the merits of an appeal. This legislation is in response to past practice at the Supreme Court where appeals were denied, or judgments were made with little, or no, explanation.
HB 2185 permits police officers and first responders to remove unattended animals from vehicles where their life may be in danger. This would address situations such as a dog locked in a car in very hot weather.
HB 2351 speeds up the process of a patient receiving prior authorization from their insurance providers. This will allow patients to have access to medical tests and procedures more quickly. I voted yes on all of the bills mentioned.
In Finance Committee we are hearing budget presentations from the various state agencies. This is where they explain their current expenses, and sometimes ask for additional funding. We will make decision on their budget requests toward the end of the session. Compared to previous years, our state is in a much better financial situation. We are on track to have a large surplus as a result of policy decisions that have allowed our coal industry to rebound. Natural gas production has been good, and pipeline construction has also attributed to a better economy.
Speaking of the surplus and the budget; we are always working on the next year’s budget, so in 2019 we are working on the 2020 budget. The surplus we have now is income from taxes paid based on last year’s projections. The state collected more than expected. The political temptation is to start new programs, which are additional expenses recurring every year. My efforts are to take care of our current obligations, which may need some additional funding following several lean years, and to work on plans to reduce tax rates for working people, which promotes economic growth and job development.
We do still have plans to provide for an average 5 percent pay increase for state workers, and teachers. I’ve been told that the Senate is working on that legislation; we expect to get it in the House in the next few weeks.
I am the Chairman of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee this year; this responsibility along with all my other committee assignments keeps me very busy.
Mason and Putnam Counties have been well represented by students in the Page Program. This is a great opportunity for students in grades 6 through 12 to get an introduction to the legislative process. My wife Anna Maria delivered applications to all the middle and high schools in the 14th District. I have had pages from Ashton, Roosevelt, and Hurricane; they have all done a great job.
I ask that you pray for all of us in the legislature as we work to make West Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family. It is an honor to serve you.
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry), represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.