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Op-Ed: Legislative Session a Refreshing Change with Progress on Key Issues

The Gilmer Free Press

Given the tide-turning November elections and the exceptional class of incoming legislators, expectations were high for the 81st Legislature. Now that the 2015 session is complete, it is the opinion of many Capitol-watchers that we have witnessed the most productive and efficiently run 60-day legislative session the state has experienced in recent memory.

Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead assembled leadership teams comprised of hard-working, dedicated leaders from around the state. These brave public servants focused on jobs, educational initiatives, legal fairness and the state’s economy.

Legislative leadership ran the session like a good business. They outlined priorities, assigned work efficiently between the two bodies – the Senate and House – and they worked together to get things done. In fact, unlike most legislative sessions, consideration on major pieces of legislation began immediately upon session kickoff on January 14 and didn’t end until midnight March 14.

Gone was the mentality of spending the first 30 days socializing and easing into the work of session. This new Legislature took the voters’ charge seriously. The lawmakers — and their dedicated, talented staff members — worked hard from the beginning.

While leadership within the minority party tried to thwart progress on several major initiatives, most rank-and-file Democrats worked cooperatively and tirelessly with their Republican counterparts to pass pro-jobs, pro-business legislation that will move the state forward. And Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin deserves praise for his willingness to work across party lines to do what is in the best interest of the state and its people.

Legal reform was a key agenda item this session, and the results are nothing less than historic. A few of the major pieces of legislation that passed – most with significant bi-partisan support – include: Comparative Fault & Joint/Several Liability, Deliberate Intent, Medical Professional Liability, Non-Partisan Election of Judges, Open & Obvious Doctrine, Punitive Damage Caps, Trespasser Liability, and Asbestos Trust Fund Reform.

Make no mistake, these “legal fairness” initiatives bring West Virginia’s laws in line with other states, make us more competitive and send the message that the state is open for business.

A host of significant legislation passed on the business and industrial development front. Just a few of these initiatives include: Prevailing Wage Reform, Auto Dealer Franchise Protections, Coal Jobs & Safety Act, Environmental Regulatory Updates, Industrial Property Protection, Repeal of Energy Portfolio Standards, Storage Tank Regulation, Teacher Certification Expansion, and Wage Payment Updates.

These laws remove barriers to competitiveness, incentivize job growth and instill fairness into West Virginia’s regulatory programs. Granted, those who oppose change and progress are singing a different tune to any media outlet that will listen. But take it from those of us who know a little something about providing jobs, making payroll and competing on an increasingly national and international scale – what the Legislature accomplished this year is remarkable.

As is unfortunately always the case, not all important legislation passed this session. After receiving the support of farmers, mineral and land owners and the natural gas industry and passing both chambers, the Lease Integration, aka Fair Pooling, bill died on the last night of the session, and this death was far more about politics than policy, as often is the case in the final hours of session. Legislation to allow charter schools and other education reform also failed to make it to the finish line. These and other important bills that did not make it to passage remain goals for next year. We need our legislative leaders to continue their efforts to pass these bills for the continual improvement of our state and its people.

All in all, President Cole and Speaker Armstead deserve high praise for their efforts, as do most all members of the 81st Legislature. Remember, this leadership team did not have decades of experience running the Legislature and years to refine their agendas. In a matter of weeks, Cole and Armstead created a structure that exceeded all expectations. And now that these folks have experience under their belts, their pro-West Virginia agenda has momentum to move the state forward.

~~  Chris Hamilton - Chairman - West Virginia Business & Industry Council ~~

Ron Paul: After a Twelve Year Mistake in Iraq, We Must Just March Home

The Gilmer Free Press

Twelve years ago last week, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq, an act the late General William Odom predicted would turn out to be “the greatest strategic disaster in US history.”

Before the attack I was accused of exaggerating the potential costs of the war when I warned that it could end up costing as much as $100 billion. One trillion dollars later, with not one but two “mission accomplished” moments, we are still not done intervening in Iraq.

President Obama last year ordered the U.S. military back into Iraq for the third time. It seems the Iraq “surge” and the Sunni “Awakening,” for which General David Petraeus had been given much credit, were not as successful as was claimed at the time. From the sectarian violence unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq emerged al-Qaeda and then its more radical spin-off, ISIS. So Obama sent the US military back.

We recently gained even more evidence that the initial war was sold on lies and fabrications. The CIA finally declassified much of its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was the chief document used by the Bush Administration to justify the U.S. attack. According to the Estimate, the US Intelligence Community concluded that:

‘[W]e are unable to determine whether [biological weapons] agent research has resumed…‘ And: ‘the information we have on Iraqi nuclear personnel does not appear consistent with a coherent effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.‘

But even as the U.S. Intelligence Community had reached this conclusion, President Bush told the American people that Iraq, “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.“

Likewise, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “bulletproof” evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaeda was contradicted by the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that there was no operational tie between Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda.

Even National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice’s famous statement that the aluminum tubes that Iraq was purchasing “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,“ and “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,“ was based on evidence she must have known at the time was false. According to the NIE, the Energy Department had already concluded that the tubes were “consistent with applications to rocket motors” and “this is the more likely end use.“

It is hard to believe that in a society supposedly governed by the rule of law, U.S. leaders can escape any penalty for using blatantly false information – that they had to know at the time was false – to launch a pre-emptive attack on a country that posed no threat to the United States. The fact that they got away with it simply makes it all the easier for Washington’s interventionists to try the same tricks again. They already did with Libya and Syria. It is likely they are also doing the same with claims of a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine.

Last week President Obama correctly blamed the current chaos in Iraq on the Bush Administration’s decision to invade. He said, “… ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

However, if the U.S. intervention in Iraq created the “unintended consequences” of ISIS and al-Qaeda, how is it that more U.S. intervention can solve the problem?

A war based on lies cannot be fixed by launching another war. We must just march home. And stay home.

MEMORANDUM: Senator Capito’s Weekly Address to West Virginians - 03.20.15

The Gilmer Free Press

This week, Senator Capito discusses the Senate Republican budget, two important pieces of legislation she supported to create a stronger West Virginia, and a field hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which she is chairing in Beckley on Monday.


Hi, I’m Senator Shelley Moore Capito, and this is my weekly Senate update.

This week, Senate Republicans proposed a budget that will balance in ten years and get our fiscal house in order.

The Republican budget slows the growth of government and government spending, expands opportunities for hard-working families, protects Americans from new tax hikes and strengthens our U.S. energy security.

American families must live within a budget, states must adhere to a budget, and it is time for the federal government to do the same.

This week, I co-sponsored several very important pieces of legislation intended to create a stronger West Virginia.

The Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act of 2015 is a bipartisan bill which establishes a commission dedicated to ending breast cancer by 2020.

Many families in West Virginia and across America have been affected by breast cancer, and I am no exception. My mother-in-law, Ruth Eskew Capito, died tragically at age 51 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

We must direct our limited research dollars to funding the most promising breast cancer research, and this bill does just that.

The Clean Air, Strong Economies – CASE – Act is a bill I co-sponsored in order to fight back against the EPA’s proposed ozone regulations.

With a price tag of more than $800 million dollars a year in West Virginia, the EPA’s proposal to lower ground-level ozone limits will only weaken our state’s already troubled economy.

This bipartisan bill takes a stand for hard-working families and reigns in this job-killing regulation.

I look forward to having an extended discussion about the impact of costly EPA’s regulations during a field hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Monday in Beckley.

This field hearing will examine the impacts of the EPA’s carbon regulations in West Virginia, the nation’s second largest coal-producing state, and will feature testimony from witnesses directly impacted by the EPA’s overreach.

To learn more about the field hearing, and for updates from my office, please visit www.capito.senate.gov.
                                                        The Gilmer Free Press

WV Legislative Update: Delegate Brent Boggs - Minority House Finance Chairman - 03.23.15

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With the budget conference concluded last Wednesday, the House and Senate adjourned Sine Die after exchanging messages on a few technical bill veto overrides and voting to send the $4.3 billion general revenue budget to the Governor.  The overall budget, including general revenue, road fund, special revenue, regular and excess lottery funds and federal block grants comes in at $12.48 billion.

Each year it’s interesting to note just where the budget funds go, as a percentage of the total amount.  The budget just passed for Fiscal Year 2016 breaks down as follows:

•  Health and Human Resources       41.48%

•  Education                             19.96%

•  Transportation                         9.9%

•  Tax and Revenue                     7.93%

•  Military Affairs/Public Safety         4.5%

•  Higher Education                     4.23%

•  Environment                           2.20%

•  Commerce                             1.97%

•  Administration                         1.97%

•  Boards and Commissions             1.46%

•  Education and Arts                   1.27%

•  Judicial                                 1.14%

•  Executive                             0.84%

•  Senior Services                       0.71%

•  Legislative                             0.24%

•  Veterans Affairs                       0.20%

There are numerous details that are contained in the 229 page bill, which is available on-line at the legislative website.  It is also important to note that only about 15% of the general revenue budget is available for appropriation, as nearly 85% is directed by statute.

The general revenue budget is $15.8 million less than the Governor’s introduced budget.  However, it only includes an additional $8.5 million for secondary road maintenance.  While that is a large sum in the everyday sense, in terms of road maintenance over the entire state, it is only $850,000 per district to each of the ten DOH districts.  It will not make a meaningful dent in the road needs.

With the combination of the extreme freeze-thaw-rain-snow winter we’ve experienced, DOH employees are swamped with slips, slides, major potholes and many road surfaces that has been on paving intervals way longer than the reasonable surface life expectancy.  I know they are working diligently to meet every need within the constraints of their budgets, workforce, available equipment, and directives from the districts.  And, with our roads arguably in the worst shape in decades because of the extreme and destructive weather; and a Rainy Day Fund with a balance in excess of $850 million, it is long past time to either dip into fund and/or issue road bonds for a major initiative to repair and revitalize our highways.  It will create jobs, provide for safer travel and eliminate costly damage and repairs to our vehicles.  Each of these will help working families across West Virginia.

I often hear fellow legislators decry “borrowing from rainy day”, but aside from keeping approximately 15% in rainy day savings to keep our bond rating among the best in the nation, we have substantial leeway to use some of the funds.  Otherwise, we will fail to even put a meaningful band-aid on roads that are in need of some very intensive care.

I’m pleased we restored about half the higher education cuts over the Governor’s recommendation; added $4 million to the State Police; restored and increased Veterans funding by $860,000; restored the local economic development grant line to keep local support at the same level as last year; and, we did cut $500,000 from both the House and Senate budget.  However, it is all contingent on approval of the Governor and what amount, if any, he may choose to reduce or eliminate by way of his line item veto authority.

Send your inquiries to the Capitol Office at:  Building 1, Room 462-M, Charleston, WV 25305.  Or, call Nancy Butcher in the Finance Committee office at 304.340.3230; or fax to 304.340.3388.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my e-mail address is: .

You may also obtain additional legislative information, including the copies of bills, conference reports, daily summaries, interim highlights, and leave me a message on the Legislature’s web site at www.legis.state.wv.us/.  When leaving a message, please remember to include your phone number with your inquiry and any details you can provide. Additional information, including agency links and the state government phone directory, may be found at www.wv.gov. Also, you may follow me on Facebook at “Brent Boggs”, Twitter at “@DelBrentBoggs” , as well as the WV Legislature’s Facebook page at “West Virginia Legislature” or on Twitter at twitter.com/wvlegislature.

Continue to remember our troops - at home and abroad - and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Until next week – take care.

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