The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

April 1, 2013

At state Legislature, governing debate continues between lawmakers’ parties

CHARLESTON — Whether it comes to seat belts, child care centers or raw milk, the debate over when government should step in continues at the West Virginia Legislature.

Since the session began in February, lawmakers have sparred over scores of measures in committees and on the House and Senate floors. The House’s close 55-44 passage of a stricter seat belt law last week showcased the recurring divide.

Touting saved lives, supporters cited estimates that the bill’s threat of a traffic stop and fine would increase seat belt use by 6 percent. West Virginia now falls below the national rate for seat belt use, and has the fourth-worst road death rate, according to the latest federal figures.

Several opponents embraced the value of seat belts, but argued that whether an adult wears one is a matter of individual choice.

“Mountaineers are always free until a politician decides that you’re not,” said Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, during the floor debate.

These recurring tensions aren’t necessarily partisan. The seat belt vote saw both Republicans and Democrats break ranks. Delegate Patrick Lane said such issues can unite the conservative and liberal wings of the Legislature when the question of government involvement arises.

“It’s an interesting coalition that’s been put together around less interference by government in our daily lives,” said Lane, a Kanawha County Republican. “It’s an ongoing debate. ... For some members it’s a guiding principle; for some members it’s issue-to-issue.”

The November election also increased the GOP ranks in the House. That whittled down the Democratic majority on committees often to just one or two seats. Several committees have since seen regulatory measures passed by narrow votes, significantly amended or derailed.

“It’s a very old debate, the rights of the individual versus the rights of the public,” said House Health and Human Resources Chair Don Perdue. “It will continue as long as there’s a republic.”

The Wayne County Democrat’s committee has experienced several examples of this divide. A proposed rule governing child care centers bogged down last month following failed attempts to scale it back. Among other provisions targeted by GOP-led amendments, the rule sought to remove a religious exemption to required child immunizations.

“There are important things of conscience that come before us ... a religious exemption is absolutely critical,” House Minority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said during that debate. “What we’re talking about is the government putting you in a difficult position, putting a parent in a difficult position.”

Perdue’s committee also voted in early March to amend a bill so it allowed raw milk sales. State agriculture officials had reported that raw milk from Pennsylvania caused an illness outbreak in West Virginia and at least two other states last summer. But during that debate, Lane cited how 20 states ban sales and that federal figures show 122 outbreaks between 1993 and 2006. Of the 1,576 people who got sick, 202 were hospitalized.

“In 30 states across the country, out of that large population that has raw milk available to them, 202 people became sick enough from drinking it to go to the hospital,” Lane told fellow committee members. “I think we can make this decision on our own.”

Lane believes the November election results reflected a concern among voters about overreach, whether by legislators or government agencies. He estimated that the rules for the various agencies and programs at the Department of Health and Human Resources, for instance, clock in at 2,500 pages.

“That is law that is made by the administrative agency, and that has expanded over the years,” Lane said. “And as that flows, I think there’s now an understanding among elected members that it has become an over-reach and maybe time for it to ebb back the other way.”

But Lane also said the committees this session have also seen a bipartisan questioning of proposals.

“While sometimes it can be a sort of partisan debate up there, sometimes you’ll have the most conservative and most liberal members of the committee both questioning a similar issue in the bill,” Lane said. “I appreciate that, and I think that creates a better byproduct, when there is that interest in how far does this go, how far should this go, is this really the right policy for our citizens and for the state, and is it going to move us forward or is it going to hold us back?”

— Associated Press writer David Gutman contributed to this report.

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • W.Va., 11 other states, ask Supreme Court to declare new EPA rules illegal

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday that West Virginia led a bipartisan group of 12 states that are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to declare illegal a settlement agreement in which the EPA promised to issue its now-pending rule concerning existing coal-fired power plants.

    August 1, 2014

  • Ebola outbreak moving faster than control efforts

    An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in West Africa is moving faster than efforts to control the disease, the head of the World Health Organization warned as presidents from the affected countries met Friday in Guinea's capital.

    August 1, 2014

  • Oak Hill man arrested for selling drugs to police officers

    A Fayette County man is in jail after his arrest Thursday evening for several drug offenses, according to a press release from the Fayette County Sheriff's Office.

    August 1, 2014

  • Suspect arrested, faces felony charges following shooting incident

    A Mercer County man was arrested and arraigned on felony charges Thursday after a domestic altercation led to a shooting incident in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    August 1, 2014

  • pittsburgh rally 5,000 rally in Pittsburgh against EPA Clean Power Plan

    The echo of people chanting, “Hey, hey, EPA, don’t take our jobs away” could be heard in downtown Pittsburgh Thursday. The voices came from about 5,000 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and their families, along with other unions such as the Boilermakers and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International (IBEW), marching through the streets.

     

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo 3 Stories

  • Alpha plans to idle coal workers

    Approximately 1,100 employees at 11 Alpha Resources-affiliated surface mines, preparation plants and other support operations in southern West Virginia got notice late Thursday afternoon that their jobs could be in jeopardy.

     

    August 1, 2014

  • New rules to fight black lung disease kick in today

    Joe Massie has spent the last 22 years of his life fighting a disease that takes his breath away, a disease he contracted deep underground in the coal mines over a period of 30 years.  Black lung may take away his breath; it has not stilled his voice.

    August 1, 2014

  • target red Zero tolerance Target Red campaign hopes to lessen intersection crashes

    It happens every day. A driver hurries on his or her way to work, school or maybe nowhere in particular. Just ahead, a green light turns yellow. With a little more gas, the vehicle just might be able to clear the intersection before that light turns red. Or maybe not. 

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Alpha announces intention to lay off 1,100 surface miners

    The announcement dealt another blow to Appalachia's iconic, but dwindling, fossil fuel industry. The company said 2015 industry forecasts show Central Appalachian coal production will be less than half of its 2009 output. It's due to a combination of familiar factors, Alpha said: competition from cheaper natural gas, weak domestic and international markets and low coal prices.

     

    July 31, 2014

  • Justice mines have violations in 5 states

    A West Virginia coal billionaire has more than 250 pending violations at mining operations in Kentucky and four other states.

    July 31, 2014