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Guest Commentary: The Back Pew

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COVID continues to dominate our lives. We seem more intent on fighting each other than fighting the spread of the virus. It’s winning; we are losing. We are losing time in school for kids. We are losing time on the job. We are losing money in the bank. We are losing civility with neighbors. We are losing people to the grave. We are losing. This didn’t end after the election. It won’t magically go away in the spring. A vaccine won’t be the silver bullet if few people take it. The only way we turn this around is by stopping the spread. So for the love of God, wear a mask. For the love of your grandparents, wear a mask. For the love of sports, wear a mask. For the love of family time at the holidays, wear a mask.

ELECTION The results of this year’s elections were clear. A red Trump wave swept over West Virginia from the top of the ballot all the way down. Republicans have controlled government in Charleston for six years. Now, they also have supermajorities in both the House and Senate. That makes some folks happy and others sad. My focus remains the same no matter who is in charge: Improving life for our families here in West Virginia.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION This year’s legislative session runs from Feb. 10 to April 10. It typically begins in January, but on gubernatorial election years it is pushed back a month to allow more time for the administration to get their agenda together. It runs for 60 straight days. Currently, our rules require us to all be present at the same time in the same space to vote. I suspect we will amend those rules to allow for electronic voting in committees at least (perhaps on bills as well) due to COVID. I also suspect visitors to the capitol will be restricted this year. That’s unfortunate since it will affect the public, but honestly it will also keep the lobbyists at bay…which is fine by me! You can also livestream every committee meeting, floor session, and vote on www.wvlegisalture.gov. Few folks watched in the past. I imagine more will this year.

MAJOR ISSUES? Lots of folks ask what I expect the major issues to be this year. I can tell you what my top three issues are — broadband, broadband, and broadband. We need a modern internet infrastructure in WV for education, economic development and health care. That’s my major issue, but I suspect Charleston leadership will also focus on tax reform, social issues and higher education reform. Expect major budget changes also.

BILL IDEAS? As I’ve done my first few years in office, I keep a running list of bill ideas I receive throughout the year to draft into actual bills. If you have any bill ideas, please be in touch in the next month so that we have time to turn your bills ideas into legislative language.

VETERANS Expect a package of bills on veterans issues this year from me. West Virginians serve in the military at a high rate. Yet, we don’t offer much in return to our veterans for their service. For example, Virginia waives their property tax on their house and Montana gives them huge discounts at state parks. I think we ought to do the same! We want veterans to make West Virginia their home! My bills to accomplish this the last few years haven’t seen the light of day, so I’m going back to the drawing board this year to try new ways to show our veterans the respect they deserve.

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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