Education, economic development, along with health, safety and wellness were big issues addressed by lawmakers during the 2013 Legislative and Special session of the West Virginia’s 81st Legislature, according to Ron Stollings, who represents the 7th Senatorial District.
“Certainly the major highlight of the session was Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s education reform bill,” Stollings said.
Senate Bill 325 gives more local control to schools and local boards of education, makes sure students receive 180 instructional days, has new recommendations for teacher hiring, the development of a county school calendar that must include at least two public meetings and looks at the possibility of year-round school.
“The bill will provide teachers with specialized training to increase the number of third-graders who end the year reading at grade level,” Stollings said. “It also ensures that full-day pre-kindergarten programs will be available to all four year olds statewide.”
Stollings said education still begins at home.
“We must get more parental involvement,” Stollings said. “This is the first step on behalf of the governor to try to address student achievement.”
There were 1,829 bills introduced and 215 passed.
Stollings said the Legislature addressed the state’s drug abuse epidemic with bills that would get rid of “pills mills” and better treat chronic non-malignant pain.
“These pills are very addictive,” he said. “We have learned that even people with pain can end up addicted.”
Senate Bill 108 creates the Unintentional Pharmaceutical Drug Overdose Facility Review Team to be located in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“The team will help determine the cause of death and track the drugs which caused the death,” said Stollings.
Stollings said Senate Bill 22, which he was the lead sponsor, provides maternity coverage for dependents of state employees.
“If a teenage daughter of a state worker became pregnant prenatal coverage was not provided by PEIA,” Stollings explained. “A teenage pregnancy by definition is at at-risk pregnancy, but without prenatal care it becomes even more high risk.”
Beginning July 1, 2013, any health insurance plan that includes maternity benefits, must include coverage for the same maternity benefits for all individuals, including dependent daughters, participating in or receiving coverage under the plan.
Stollings said the “Complete Streets” bill encourages the state Department of Highways to use best practices for design of streets to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, transit units and commuters.
“This can be are real wellness piece of legislation by making more walkable communities,” he said.
Stollings said another important bill deals with prison reform and prison overcrowding.
“It will cut down on recidivism rates for repeat offenders,” he said. “This reform bill has an educational component, a counseling component and drug testing. It enhances post-prison supervision programs for non-violent offenders.”
It is estimated that the programs will save the state $18 million next year and up to $168 million in five years, according to Stollings, and is also expected to halt prison growth rates, but not reduce current populations.
Other bills addressed puppy mills, Internet sales taxes, body armor for law enforcement officers, pipeline safety, public financing of Supreme Court elections, making not wearing a seat belt in a motor vehicle a primary offense and many others.
“Are real important bill that came out of Mingo County was the Grand Jury Secrecy Bill, which makes it a crime for a person sitting on a grand jury, or those involved in the case as employee of the court, to disclose the identity of an individual who will be indicted,” Stollings explained. “What was going on before is that people sitting on a grand jury were telling people they might be indicted and they would take off and flee out of town.”
Stollings, a Democrat from Boone County, as
“Overall I thought it was a good session,” he said. “I think we are understanding how society, education, truancy, poverty, drop-outs, substance abuse and prison costs and how they all tie in together. The only way to really impact these things are to educate parents, children, communities and basically everyone to make things better for all of us.”
Stollings, who is co-chair of the state Senate’s Health Committee, said it will be looking at the state run behavioral health facilities, feasibility and necessity of medical marijuana, continuing a study on immunizations regarding children, and expansion of Medicaid during interim sessions leading up to next year’s 82nd Legislature.
Stollings said an oversight committee will study the authority of structure of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
“We are going to look at updating and modernizing the department’s statues,” he said. “Discussing and implementing the public works health audit, along with the possible expansion of Medicaid in West Virginia. Expanding Medicaid would provide access to 130,000 West Virginians who before has not had access and instead go to emergency rooms and put off preventative care.”
Stollings is on the state Senate’s Rules Committee, Finance Committee, Education Committee, Health & Human Resources Committee and Energy Industry and Mining Committee.
“What I have tried to do with the downturn in the coal industry and the state seeking how important the coal severance tax money is to the state budget, is emphasize the need to invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, roads and bridges in southern West Virginia in order for us to diversify our economy. This is important for Boone, Logan, Lincoln, Wayne and Mingo counties.”
Stollings said Mingo County continues to lead the way in post-mine land use.
“They have built a highway, an airport runway and housing all developed as post-mine land use,” he said. “We can do this in the other coalfield counties as well, but it takes investing in infrastructure and economic diversification. The sky is the limit. We are still pro-coal, but we can’t be totally dependent on the coal industry. We need to diversify our economies and I’m optimistic about our future and become visionary.”
Stollings (D-Boone) and he have a great working relationship with fellow 7th Senatorial District Senator Art Kirkendoll (D-Logan).
“Art and I will continue to work to make sure the 7th Senatorial District continues to have the best possible chances in obtaining funding and grants for needed projects,” he said.
In Lincoln County, Stollings and Kirkendoll were able to get the state Senate to pass a feasibility study for a state park around the Upper Mud River Wildlife Management Area.
“Before it didn’t stand much of a chance because the scope of the project was a little too small,” Stollings explained. “The concept we have now includes the Ivy Connector of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System into Water Ways Park, which will allow us to include that entire area in the making of a state park. Getting the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to now look at this bigger scope of this proposal is the first step.”
Another Lincoln County piece of legislation allows the county to use some courthouse facilities funding to upgrade a church near the courthouse campus for drug court activities.
“Before this bill passed they were not able to do it,” Stollings said. “Now they will be allowed to use funding for off-site activities as long as they are courthouse functions.”
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