Last updated: July 17. 2013 1:25PM - 269 Views

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Special to the Daily News

CHARLESTON – House Speaker Rick Thompson said he is encouraged by progress this week on two key efforts that will affect all West Virginians: the Justice Center study on the state criminal justice system and the state’s analysis of the federal health insurance exchange mandate.

“Public safety and access to affordable health care are vital elements of our quality of life here in West Virginia,” Speaker Thompson said. “I am pleased that lawmakers are staying on top of both issues.”

Earlier today, the Council of State Government’s Justice Center updated state officials on its Justice Reinvestment project, a joint study conducted with the help of the Pew Center on the States. Project researchers focused in particular on how to address one major factor: substance abuse. The final project recommendations are expected in the coming weeks.

“In June, I joined Governor Tomblin, Senate President Kessler and Chief Justice Ketchum in announcing this effort, and I am eager to receive the final recommendations,” Speaker Thompson said. “Jail and prison overcrowding is an extremely pressing problem that simply cannot be ignored.

“But it is also a very complex problem that will likely require multiple steps to resolve. We must be careful in looking for ways to cut down on repeat offenders while thoroughly ensuring the public’s safety. I look forward to working with the Governor to accomplish that.”

Also today, five of the Legislature’s joint committees hosted a briefing in the House Chamber on the health benefit exchange mandate resulting from the federal Affordable Care Act. Representatives of the Governor’s Office and the state Insurance Commission provided a detailed presentation on West Virginia’s options for allowing a system that best facilitates obtaining health insurance.

“This is a mandate from Congress. West Virginia will have an insurance exchange regardless, so our job is to take every precaution to ensure we spend the fewest state tax dollars while gaining the most benefit for West Virginians who are struggling to obtain affordable health care,” Speaker Thompson said. “I applaud the Governor’s administration for conducting such a careful examination of the pros and cons of each option.”

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