Area lawmakers speak at MOV chamber event

PARKERSBURG – The end of the 2014 legislative session does not mean the end of work and discussion on a number of topics it addressed, state lawmakers told members of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley Thursday.

Delegates Tom Azinger, John Ellem and Dan Poling joined Sens. Donna Boley and David Nohe at the chamber’s legislative breakfast in a conference room at the St. Joseph’s Campus of Camden Clark Medical Center. They spoke to about three dozen people about the bills that did and didn’t pass in the session that wrapped up last month.

Azinger, R-Wood, is not seeking re-election, but he said that won’t prevent him from pushing for passage of a bill to make pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient in the production of methamphetamine, available only by prescription.

“Being an old jarhead, you don’t like to give up,” he said.

Azinger said such laws have helped curb drug problems in Mississippi and Oregon.

The West Virginia bill died at the end of the session, said Nohe, R-Wood. Nohe served on the conference committee trying to hammer out a compromise between the Senate version, which would have required a prescription for any amount, and the House’s, which would have allowed people to have up to 48 grams of the medicine without a prescription.

Nohe said he thought the prescription requirement was excessive, and that even if it had passed, drug dealers and users would find ways around it or different substances to abuse. The more effective approach, he said, would be for the federal Food and Drug Administration to ban non-prescription sales nationwide of pseudoephedrine and for education to be used to steer people away from drugs.

Camden Clark President and CEO Mike King asked the lawmakers what the next step was in addressing drug abuse in the state.

“I’m just telling you as a provider, we’re overrun,” he said, referring to drug-related emergency room visits and babies being born addicted to drugs around the state.

Ellem said King and other health care officials could help.

“I’d like to see you take the pharmaceutical industry to task,” he said, pointing to the FDA’s recent approval of Zohydro, a painkiller that can be 10 times more potent than Vicodin.

Nohe said he expects a bill banning abortion after 22 weeks except in cases of a medical emergency for the mother to return. It was passed by both houses but vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who called it unconstitutional.

Nohe said many doctors opposed the bill, saying it could damage their relationships with patients. He favored including an exemption for some hospitals, since the bill was mainly aimed at abortion clinics, but the national Right to Life group objected, saying the provision would weaken the bill.

“I know we’ll try again,” Nohe said.

The senator said the anger evident in emails about that bill, and one establishing a Day of Prayer in the state, surprised him.

“The mail that we got from the universities … asking us not to pass that (Day of Prayer) bill, it was enough to make you cry,” Nohe said.

Ultimately, the Day of Prayer bill was passed and signed by the governor.

A massive water-safety bill drafted in response to the chemical spill on the Elk River on the second day of the session took up a great deal of time, the lawmakers said.

“That had to be done,” said Poling, D-Wood.

But it slowed or stopped progress on other legislation, he said, including a bill that would have done away with the late filing fee for businesses’ annual reports.

“Nobody disagreed with it; still laying there,” Poling said.

Boley, R-Pleasants, said she was glad to see Senate Bill 420 didn’t make it out of the House after being passed by the Senate. It would have required the Bureau for Children and Families, WorkForce West Virginia and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to join the state Board of Education in sharing information with the P-20 Longitudinal Data System for the purpose of tracking data on students.

“It starts collecting data from cradle to grave,” said Boley, who added that the bill was related to the Common Core education standards West Virginia and more than 40 other states adopted in exchange for federal stimulus funds. “To me, they don’t need that information.”

Boley credited Delegates Bill Anderson, R-Wood, and Bob Ashley, R-Roane, with stopping the bill.

“When it went back to finance (committee), those guys got it killed,” she said.

Boley also questioned some of Tomblin’s line-item vetoes, including the removal of $3.5 million out of $5 million earmarked to help provide in-home care for aging citizens.

“Somehow we’ve got to get money in there to keep those people in their homes,” she said, noting it’s a less expensive alternative than long-term care facilities.

Ellem said that as Republicans have gained ground on the Democratic majority in the House, there has been more partisan contentiousness in the chamber. He said a bill he felt imposed excessive ethics requirements on the attorney general was one item that divided the members.

“The attorney general bill, I think, just started the whole session off on a bad note,” Ellem said.