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Back Pew October 5, 2020

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This month’s column provides answers to frequently-asked questions from local constituents over the last few weeks.

POLLING PLACE PRECAUTIONS. Several folks called to ask me if safety precautions will be taken at polling places? Yes, they will. The governor’s mask order for indoor spaces remains in effect and poll workers and voters will be expected to wear masks to vote. A full list of safety precautions taken at polling places across the state is available from the WV Secretary of State’s website.

RISE HOMES. The great flood of 2016 left hundreds of West Virginians homeless. One year ago in the fall of 2019, over 400 housing projects remained incomplete through the RISE program for low-income flood survivors. In a year’s time, over 200 of those homes now stand completed. If the current pace holds, they will all be completed by next fall. So, the good news is that the pace of construction is picking up. I appreciate the WV National Guard’s hard work in making that possible. The bad news is that over 150 families are still waiting, and I will continue to work with them until they receive keys to their homes.

FLOOD MITIGATION. Related, WV received $106 million from the federal government for flood mitigation projects to stem the tide of the effects of future floods. As of next month, the process moves to selection of particular projects–bridges, dams, stormwater systems, etc–to be funded. It’s vital that counties, cities, and local residents all stay in close communication to ensure local projects are prioritized to keep us safe in the future.

MEDICAL CANNABIS. The legislature first passed a bill allowing medical cannabis in 2017, and the program is finally getting off the ground. Permits for growers (farms who grow the cannabis for medical purposes) were awarded last week. Permit for processors and dispensaries will be awarded in the spring. While I’m very glad patients will soon have a new opportunity for treatment here in WV, I’m frustrated by the business side of it. For example, no local farms were chosen as growers. We live in the agricultural heart of WV and have a host of generational farmers who know what they’re doing. But instead, the state chose to issue permits largely to out-of-state conglomerates who are also operating medical cannabis businesses in other states and want to add WV to their holdings.

ATVs ON STREETS. This summer a new law went into effect allowing ATVs to be driven on streets statewide if they are properly equipped. Equipment requirements include seat belts, turn signals, headlights, brake lights, horn, inspection, muffler, registration, windshield, and more.

HYBRID VEHICLE REGISTRATION. As hybrid vehicle owners know, a provision buried in the Roads to Prosperity legislation from several years ago significantly raised the hybrid vehicle registration fee. Most vehicles pay about $50/year, but hybrid vehicle owners are now required to pay $150/year. The DMV argues that folks who buy less fuel still need to pay their fair share for road upkeep. Fair enough, but the devil is in the details. Just because a car is a hybrid doesn’t necessarily mean it gets better gas mileage. A group of us introduced a fix to allow for fairness in the fee structure this past year, but it failed to make it out of committee. It will be reintroduced next year.

Please stay in touch. As always, I’ll do my best to respond to your questions and advocate for you and your families in Charleston. That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you!

Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor representing Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe, & Summers. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or stephen.baldwin@wvsenate.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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