The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 11, 2012

Lawmakers pass both texting, drug bills

Last night of the regular session

CHARLESTON — West Virginia lawmakers raced toward the midnight deadline Saturday in passing legislation to outlaw hand-held cell phones for texting and talking, and to combat rampant drug abuse, considered a “scourge” in most of the state.

House and Senate conferees came to terms on the hotly-disputed matter of making it a crime to use a hand-held wireless device to either send text messages or engage in chatter.

As the compromise version was worked out, lawmakers agreed to make texting a primary offense, but merely talking would be a secondary violation until July 1, 2013, when it, too, is elevated to a primary status.

Fines were also compromised by the two chambers — $100 for a first offense, $200 for second, and $300 for a third.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had made both the texting issue and his drug package major components of this session.

In a revised drug bill, the House agreed to reset the daily limit of 15 common cold and allergy medications to 3.6 grams, for a 15-day supply, with a monthly ceiling of 7.2 grams.

Annually, sufferers could buy 48 grams of those remedies — up from the original House version of 24 grams.

Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, prepared to oversee his chamber’s acceptance of the measure, even with the change.

Based on his talks with the House leadership and Tomblin’s staff, and his own leadership team, Kessler was confident no last-minute flaws would surface to keep the bill from reaching the governor’s desk.

West Virginia would join Indiana in having the lowest daily amount available and be the first state in the nation to impose an annual one, Kessler pointed out.

The House made one other major change — the deadline for trying out the NPLEx real-time tracking system is Jan. 1, 2015, one year later than originally considered.

From day one, while the bill contains a number of features, all the attention focused on cold and allergy medications that contain pseudoephedrine — the critical element in the manufacture of illegal meth.

Twice, in Senate committees, Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, tried to impose a “prescription only” wrinkle in the bill to keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of meth makers.

The bill grew even more controversial over a failed attempt by Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, to open up the Board of Pharmacy’s database so that sheriffs could get inside, provided they were engaged in an active investigation.

Instead, that idea will be studied this year during interims.

Moye was still reeling over the failure of that, along with his bill that would limit prescriptions for narcotic pain killers to two within a three-day period.

“I wish we had addressed more issues and in a more substantial way, but this is the first step in a long journey,” said Moye, in a statement he wanted to read on the House floor, but the bill was hurried along before he could ask permission to speak.

“I would have preferred for us to have taken a very large step for we have a very long way to go.”

Moye said the lives of everyone in the state — from children to seniors  — hinge on the ability to stem drug abuse, which authorities call an “epidemic” in southern West Virginia.

“We must continue to look for ways to reduce the plague of addiction that has besieged our great state,” he said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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