VIENNA - Two Vienna women are working to make sure senior issues are heard at the state level through their involvement with the West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature.
Mary Leach and Deloris Chancey serve as senators in the model legislature that is composed of 106 representatives, all 60 years of age or older, who are elected from throughout the state by their peers to write, research, get expert testimony and enact bills, called position papers. The body met Oct. 16-18 at the Charleston Marriot and produced 26 position papers.
If the position paper is voted and approved by the West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature, they will be presented to the governor, the State Senate president and the House of Delegates speaker for consideration and possible action in the West Virginia Legislature to be enacted into law.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Deloris Chancey and Mary Leach of Vienna represented Wood County at the West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature in Charleston Oct. 16-18. Members are elected from throughout the state by their peers to write, research, get expert testimony and enact bills, called position papers. If the position paper is voted and approved by the body, they will be presented to the governor, the State Senate president and the House of Delegates speaker for consideration and possible action in the West Virginia Legislature to be enacted into law.
"It has really been an interesting ride," Leach said. "It is to teach senior citizens about our government and how it works."
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had declared Oct. 13-19, 2013, as Silver Haired Legislature Week in the state. There are more than 415,000 West Virginia citizens who are 60 years of age or older.
"An awareness of the common needs and concerns of these citizens can help pave the way for a better quality of life for all West Virginians; and West Virginia's elected officials seek citizen input to guide them in developing and implementing needed programs and services," the governor said in his proclamation. "The West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature has proposed realistic and feasible solutions to problems all West Virginians face through its studied recommendations."
The Silver Haired Legislature follows all the rules the regular legislature does, it meets in committee as well as in its two full bodies, drafts position papers and votes on those papers.
Things started in the Silver Haired Legislature that went on to be worked on in the state legislature and enacted into law includes the state's Homestead Exemption, the establishment of family restrooms at roadside rest areas and more.
"We work hard on these bills," Leach said. "When we craft these bills, we do it just like the real legislature with committees and so on.
"We have to do a lot of research, a lot of interviews and talk to people on what we think would be a good idea to help the seniors around the state."
Lawmakers do listen to what the Silver Haired Legislature says, said Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood.
"They have come up with some really good ideas," he said. "It gets them involved and lets us in the Legislature know what they are thinking.
"They have come up with a lot of ideas that can help a lot of older people, which I am one."
In drafting their bills, the Silver Haired Legislators have to explain what the issue is; what the current facts and statistics are; options and future implications; funding information; and resource information. Like the actual legislature, ammendments can be added onto a bill and considered.
Chancey said ideas can come from things they themselves have experienced or from someone they are talking with.
"Sometimes we hear ideas from people and craft it into a bill," she said.
"You have to be listening."
During this past session, the Silver Haired Legislature passed position papers on requiring a prescription to receive drug products that contain as an active ingredient Ephedrine, Pseudoephedrine, Phenylpropanolamine, and other precursors of Methamphetamine; better distribution of information of state and federal services that provide help for the elderly and disabled through public broadcasting and other venues; creating mobile offices to travel around the state to areas without a regional DMV office once a month or so to allow residents to renew their driver's licenses without having to travel great distances; and a position paper to decriminalize the marijuana industry to fund rehabilitation programs and renovation of the penal system.
In voting to decriminalize marijuana, Leach said there were a lot of things to consider.
"When you are our age, you run into a lot of situations of people who are really ill and have a lot of pain," she said. "We hear a lot of the benefits of marijuana.
"When we go in there we have to look at an issue from every side. We have to evaluate everything we can think of, the good, bad or whatever about each bill. We have to be open minded."
When drivers license are renewed, some people have to drive 80 miles to get somewhere to have their license renewed. If they don't have all the necessary paperwork they might have to go back numerous times.
Leach said she had a bad experience in Parkersburg where she had to go back four times with additional paperwork to get everything straightened out.
She wondered what it could be like for people in rural areas around the state who had to travel extensively to get their license renewed.
Chancey said a lot of the committee meetings and such were conducted at their hotel. Towards the end of the session, they are bused to the Capitol building and allowed to sit in their respective Houses they represent and vote on the papers they drafted.
"We get to sit in the seats and vote just like the legislature does," she said.
Both women have been involved in the Silver Haired Legislature for a number of years and serve in the Senate. Wood County does not have any delegates in the model legislature.
"We need some new people," Leach said.
"I am not really a politician, but in this you don't have to be.
"You are for everyone in the state."
Leach volunteers her time because so many people have help her at times she needed someone and wanted to give something back.
As she is able, Chancey wants to give back too.
"I think that while I have my health, why not help help other people," she asked. "Why sit at home in a rocking chair and sleep? That is not me."
Many seniors don't know what the Silver Haired Legislature is or think it is just a social event.
"There are a lot of people now who don't know what it is," Chancey said.
"They think it is strictly a fun thing and laugh at it. It is very serious to us."
"That is because we care and we try to do what is right," Leach added. "We are out here in the trenches with these people.
"We rack our brains to come up with some good ideas all the time."