– by Delegate Roger Hanshaw
The end of the 2016 legislative session is now in sight. With three weeks remaining in the session, now is the time of greatest activity for both the House of Delegates and the Senate. This past week, the House of Delegates took a stand against federal overreach and refused to authorize a new rule from the United States EPA to regulate wood burning stoves and fireplaces for home heating. Each year the federal government asks West Virginia, and a majority of other states in the country, to adopt a long list of new rules governing everything from coal mining to vehicle emissions. This year, EPA went too far. During this past summer, EPA adopted a rule to regulate wood burning stoves and fireplaces used for home heating. Last Friday, the West Virginia House of Delegates rejected the rule and said that the State of West Virginia would not enforce it. If EPA wants to regulate wood stoves and fireplaces in West Virginia, it will have to come here and do it on its own.
Many West Virginians have long believed that our federal government has exceeded the scope of its authority with respect to regulations. Over the past several decades, the volume of new rules handed down by federal agencies has continued to steadily expand with no apparent end in sight. Often these new rules are important safety measures that make life better for all Americans, but equally often, these new rules do little more than expand the overall impact of the federal government on the daily lives of Americans. The wood stove rule is a primary example of such a needless and unnecessary action by our federal government. The next step is for someone to sue EPA and ask our federal courts to declare the entire rule invalid.
Other rules have been under scrutiny over the past two weeks in Charleston. During the summer and fall of 2015, the legislature contacted every state agency and asked each of them to review their rules to determine whether West Virginia had any out-of-date or unnecessary rules still on the books. Many agencies happily complied with our request and recommended over 140 rules to be repealed. On those recommendations, the legislature has done exactly that, and during the past several days, the Senate has passed bills repealing over 140 antiquated, ineffective, and now-unnecessary rules. The House will likely take up these bills in the next couple weeks in order to get these rules fully repealed.
Development of the state budget will occupy a big part of the final three weeks of the session this year. Each year the House of Delegates and the Senate spend several weeks hearing from state agencies about their program proposals and spending requests for the upcoming year, and then based on those requests and recommendations, each house develops its version of a state budget. Those budget proposals are compared with the governor’s proposed budget in order to develop a final budget for the State of West Virginia. We have a lot of needs in West Virginia right now, and developing a budget to address those needs is no easy task. Perhaps the two biggest budget issues facing the state this year are maintenance for our aging infrastructure and protecting those West Virginians covered by PEIA. With one in seven West Virginians relying on PEIA for their healthcare coverage, our state cannot allow this program to fail.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin proposed to generate more funding for road maintenance and PEIA coverage by increasing the sales tax on cigarettes in West Virginia. Under the Governor’s proposal, West Virginia’s cigarette tax would go up, but still be lower than our surrounding states. The State Senate is considering this proposal right now. If adopted by the Senate, the Governor’s proposal will be up for consideration next in the House of Delegates. If the legislature does eventually adopt the Governor’s proposal, it is likely to come with associated spending cuts in other parts of state government. In times of scarcity, like now, it is critically important that we make sure the precious few resources we do have are being used wisely. This means eliminating as much duplication of services as possible across our various entities of state government.
With three weeks to go in the session, there is still time for students from our District to serve as legislative pages for a day. The page program can be a valuable way for young people to see our legislative process first hand. If you have any questions about having your son or daughter serve as a page, please contact my office. The regular session this year runs through March 12, 2016. During that time, please feel free to visit my office in Room 229-East of the main capitol building, or contact me at (304) 340-3135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, have a great week.