CHARLESTON — Childhood mental illness tops the list of the Our Children, Our Future's 2016 Legislative Platform, released Monday.
OCOF executive director Stephen Smith said the issue, which was selected by a vote of more than 2,500 people, speaks to a Department of Justice report.
"(The report) says our youth mental health is so bad we're violating the Americans with Disabilities Act," Smith said. "Part of it is this sort of deep understanding people have that if a child is already facing mental health issues, what's going to come of them when they become an adult?"
Smith said those issues may manifest in children as young as 9 who don't know how to cope with what's going on in their lives.
The campaign will call on lawmakers to pass legislation that will create a comprehensive mental and behavioral health plan for children.
Nearly all the issues speak to poverty in some way. Smith said some, like expanding broadband access, would create jobs; others, such as increasing local food access and profitability, would address hunger and healthy food.
All of them provide an opportunity for West Virginians, he said.
Smith said it's a "popular myth" that West Virginians have a culture difference of fatalism that people have gotten used to the way things are and can't lift themselves out of it.
"I think that's hogwash," Smith said.
He said when OCOF or its partners give people an opportunity to do something they "bust the door down."
"I believe people can make things better," he said. "They want to make them better."
OCOF's issues, in order of the votes they got as priorities:
• Mental Health Matters: Establish a Statewide Strategy for Combating Child Mental Illness
• Second Chance for Employment, removing barriers for those who have committed non-violent felonies to obtain employment
• Right to Work is Wrong, opposing efforts to make West Virginia a Right to Work state
• Protecting Quality Childcare Centers, opposing efforts to reduce child care benefits that would close daycare businesses
• Tax Reform to Protect Roads, Children, Seniors and Jobs
• Juvenile Justice: Redirect and Reinvest
• Increasing Local Food Access and Profitability
• After School Opportunities for All
• Stop Meth Labs
• Expand Broadband Access
Some of those issues will have high-paid and high-powered lobbyists working the other side of the issue.
Smith said lawmakers are wise enough to know the difference in their own constituents and those who are paid to talk to them. Legislators are "movable," he said.
"It is hard to beat back money," he said. "But I think if we do our job and put as much energy into getting real people in front of legislators as the other side does dangling money in front of them, I think that in reality people beat money most of the time."
He said that on the issue of stopping meth labs, the issue of making pseudoephedrine prescription only came close to passing two years ago, and was defeated this year. Instead of taking the legislative loss and ditching the issue, OCOF staff and volunteers worked through private pharmacies to take over the counter pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, out of their stores.
This year, he said, they'll be able to show lawmakers they've done their part.
"Meet us halfway," he said. "This should be the law of the land."
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