ST. MARYS - State lawmakers faced a number of challenges in dealing with the state budget, water safety, the minimum wage and other issues during the last legislative session, lawmakers told residents Wednesday in St. Marys.
Attending the meeting were Delegate. Lynwood "Woody" Ireland, R-Ritchie, Delegate. Roger Romine, R-Doddridge, Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, at the St. Marys City Building where the met with constituents from around the area. They discussed what was accomplished and what was not.
The meeting, sponsored by the Pleasants County Chamber of Commerce, was attended by around 25 people.
Around 200 bills were passed by lawmakers and are awaiting action by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Around 2,100 bills were introduced in the House of Delegates and 700 in the Senate.
The Legislature recently passed a $4.2 billion state budget.
"This was the most different session ever," Nohe said.
The day after they went into session, the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk River occurred, affecting the drinking water for 300,000 people.
"(In the beginning) we did not realize what a crisis that would be and how that would change the Legislature for 30 days," he said. "It really put everything off track."
Originally, lawmakers had plans to focus on road maintenance and finding a way to fund repairs.
"Now as we drive over all of these potholes, it is a shame this did not come to fruition," Nohe said. ''It got lost in this session and it was one of the most important bills we were going to look at."
The water issue became the focus of the session, he said.
The more-than-900-page bill was being rushed through to get something done without considering the long-term affects to business and communities, he said. The bill was on the fast track for a vote, but Nohe and other lawmakers wanted a day to read through it.
"We were called 'obstructionists,' because they wanted to pass it fast," Nohe said.
With the industrial base in the area, Nohe said he wants to make sure the water is protected, but he was afraid redundancies in the bill could end up costing water customers more on monthly bills because of the amount of testing required.
"Some of the things they were asking for would easily raise your water bill $200-$300 a month," he said. "When you try to rush something, you are going to miss things. I still think we don't know 100 percent what is in that bill."
Romine said it isn't the laws that pass which matter most, but how those laws are enforced.
He said the water problems could have been avoided if the situation was monitored the way it was suppose to be by the EPA.
Ireland spoke about the 20-week abortion ban bill that was moved to the floor and debated.
"Emotions got very high," he said.
All of the lawmakers present said they had received thousands of e-mails about the abortion ban bill.
"I am pro-life so it is a pretty simple matter for me," said Romine, who voted for it. "At 22 weeks, a baby is viable. That is a child. I cannot imagine anyone who is pro-choice waiting that long before making that kind of decision."
Boley talked about the failure of the bill making pseudoephedrine available through prescription only.
"I felt you are punishing the law-abiding citizen who would end up having to go to the doctor to get a prescription," she said.
She also said the budget continues to be a difficult process.
"We have a Rainy Day Fund we have been putting aside for years," Boley said. "No one wanted to touch that. It had $920 million in it."
However to made ends meet on Medicaid costs, the Legislature took more than $83 million from it, which was sufficient to keep the state's bond ratings down.
"It is being anticipated that we are going to have a tough budget year next year," Boley said. "Hopefully, we won't have to dip back into the Rainy Day Fund."
A bill that would have allowed forced pulling of natural gas also died.
"The Marcellus Shale needs to be developed,'' Ireland said. ''It needs to be done, but done correctly. There is plenty of money coming out of those holes in the ground to treat everyone fairly. I don't see any reason for any stakeholders not to be treated fairly."
Romine also discussed the a bill to increase the state minimum wage from $8 to $8.75 an hour.
"No one here is going to deny that anyone does not have the right to make a minimum wage, improve the quality of their life, but from a small business perspective, there could be a little bit of a downside for that," he said. "If you have to pay those minimum wages, you may have to let someone go in order to meet that requirement."