Controversial medicine bill fails to pass

CHARLESTON – State lawmakers were able to pass a water safety bill, but the bill to make pseudoephedrine available through a prescription only failed as the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature came to an end Saturday night.

Both the House of Delegates and the State Senate worked into the evening Saturday night going over bills, making last minute changes and voting.

“There are bills that should have passed, but didn’t,” said state Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants. “There were a lot of bills that died.

“You learn not to become too attached to any bill, because it can be killed out at the last minute.”

Local lawmakers were happy the water safety bill passed.

Lawmakers spent most of the legislative session crafting a bill to safeguard water systems and above-ground storage tanks after chemicals leaked into the Elk River in January and made the local drinking water unsafe for a number of days. The final bill adds inspections for many storage tanks, requires more safety planning for water systems and includes long-term health monitoring for people exposed to the little-known chemicals that spilled.

Del. John Ellem, R-Wood, said there was a lot of bipartisan agreement on the final bill.

“It was encouraging,” he said. “We were really able to come together on that one.

“By all accounts, it is a good water protection bill.”

However being an election year, there were a lot of partisan disagreements on a number of other issues.

A bill making pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in the production of methamphetamine, available only through a prescription failed which upset Del. Tom Azinger, R-Wood, who had been pushing for it since 2011.

“I was sorely disappointed,” he said, following his regular session with the West Virginia Legislature.

Azinger, along with Ellem, have announced they are not seeking re-election.

“It was one of the biggest disappointments in my 20 years in the Legislature,” Azinger said of the failure of the pseudoephedrine bill. “I was hoping to go out with a victory, but I didn’t.”

A version passed out of the House would have given counties the option to make it a prescription, but it did not pass the Senate.

Ellem was also disappointed it didn’t pass.

Last week, state Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, who opposed the bill, saw indications it may not get passed.

“We have not really heard a lot about that one,” Nohe said last week.

Nohe said the bill was unpopular with some as it would have called for people to be charged with possession of a controlled substance if they are found with it without a prescription.

“If someone would go over to Belpre and buy it where it is legal, if they came back to West Virginia and were found with it they could be charged with possession of a controlled substance,” Nohe said. “If someone is found with one pill, it is a misdemeanor; if it happens again, the person can be charged with a felony.

“This is one reason why it probably won’t pass.”

Boley was happy it did not pass because of the possible penalties to people who might have it on them at an inopportune time.

Ellem was unhappy a bill promoting not using certain West Virginia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to buy soda pop while promoting buying fresh foods died in committee early in the session.

Boley was happy a bill banning abortions at 20 weeks passed intact. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is still reviewing it.

A number of lawmakers called this session “uneventful” with very few substantial issues taking center stage.

“There was nothing else that I was really ecstatic about,” Azinger said.

Next week, lawmakers return to Charleston to work on the state budget. Calls have been put out by some to give pay raises to certain state employees and more.

“The budget is going to be a lot more difficult,” Ellem said. “We are going to be tasked to find money to be able to balance the budget with.”