It’s week three at the legislature! Here’s a recap of major issues moving forward.
BROADBAND A bill to support “open access” broadband networks will be introduced this week. As opposed to the current setup where the monopoly companies own and sell access to the broadband network, an “open access” network is open to multiple companies. This encourages competition and more affordable pricing. The provision was defeated last year due to lobbying efforts of the major internet carriers. However, we are very hopeful it will receive enough bipartisan support to pass this year.
MINIMUM WAGE A perennial debate at the legislature is whether the minimum wage should be raised. Right now, the minimum wage in West Virginia is $8.75/hour. Most small businesses right now offer more than that and still struggle to find folks. What’s the right number–$10/hour? $12/hour? Since all that happens in Charleston is talk, I think the people should decide. Ohio put it on the ballot to slightly increase the minimum wage and then tie future increases to rising prices. Let’s put it on the ballot here and let the people decide.
NUCLEAR ENERGY BAN Currently in West Virginia, there is a ban on nuclear energy production. After conversations over the last year, the Senate voted 24-7 to repeal the ban. The idea is that we should be an “all of the above” energy state–coal, solar, gas, wind, geothermal, and potentially nuclear. I voted yes. Federal and state regulations remain in place. All this does is afford us the opportunity to explore all of our options in the modern energy market.
TOLLS FOR AMBULANCES Currently, ambulances and emergency vehicles have to pay tolls each time they pass through. They are not eligible for an EZ Pass. As you might imagine, they rack up huge toll bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. My bill to exempt them from paying the tolls passed through the Natural Resources Committee and now heads to Transportation. I sincerely hope we can provide our first responders some much-needed financial relief.
DAY OF TEARS I co-sponsored a resolution last week (SR12) recognizing a “day of tears” for all the lives lost to abortion over the years. I signed onto the resolution because, despite how divided we are as a nation on this extremely sensitive issue, I hope we can all agree to mourn together. My position on the issue remains constant–life begins at conception and must be thoughtfully protected from womb to tomb, for mother and child. We do not trade lives; every life matters.
CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES MEETINGS I continue to meet with Child Protective Service workers from across the region in order to understand the challenges they face. Their stories are haunting. One little boy lived in a hospital emergency room for over a month because they could not find a placement for him. This is but one of many examples of children with enormous needs and the workers who do their best to meet them. Their ideas for improvements include: additional community-based resource providers for kids, hands-on training, fill vacancies, better pay, mental health support for CPS employees, an online option for reporting child abuse, a local facility for kids with acute needs (who are currently being sent out of state).
STATE LABS Last month, the Post Audits Committee received a report on the state’s aging laboratories. These labs do everything from protect dairy products to help solve crimes, and they are all in horrible disrepair. A group of legislative leaders traveled to Kentucky late last week to see how they solved a similar problem. They built one, large, brand new lab to house all their unique services. We are working on a way to do the same thing here in West Virginia to ensure the scientific integrity of daily business operations. This is the kind of thing which draws no attention but is absolutely vital to our state.
That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you. Don’t hesitate to reach out during this legislative session with your feedback!