The Times West Virginian

January 31, 2014

Legislature focuses on budget, water crisis

Minimum wage getting attention

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The 2014 West Virginia legislative session continued this week with familiar issues.

State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, chair of the Finance Committee, said that the focus has still primarily been on figuring out the budget and dealing with the water crisis.

“We’ve spent most of our time on those two issues,” Prezioso said. “It’s not very glamourous work, but we’ve worked pretty hard at it.”

Prezioso said that the state Senate has passed a water resources protection bill, which has now moved to the House of Delegates.

Majority Whip and Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said that the house speaker, Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has “triple-referenced” the bill, meaning he has sent it to three committees for review and comment.

“He has triple-referenced the bill because he wants as many people involved as possible,” Caputo said. “He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to slow down the bill, but he wants to get it right.”

The bill will go through the Health Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Committee.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said that the bill makes two major contributions.

First, Manchin said that the House will look at provisions to ensure a thorough risk assessment is done at above-ground storage tanks and other sites that pose a potential risk to the water supply.

“We’re looking at expanding the bill to provide for inspection and create specific plans for all of those risks,” Manchin said.

Second, the bill would require the development of a response plan by the water utility. Manchin said he would like to see the burden for response plan creation spread to other entities, such as emergency response teams and public health agencies.

“I think we’ll be looking at that pretty closely, and perhaps revamping that as well,” Manchin said.

While the focus this week was still on the water crisis and taking care of the budget, other bills are also moving forward.

Caputo mentioned two bills he saw move forward this week.

A bill to raise the minimum wage passed through the Industry and Labor Committee, Caputo said. The bill would increase minimum wage by a dollar over 18 months, from $7.25 to $8.25.

A bill was passed in the House that would increase penalties on child pornography possession and distribution. That bill came out of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, Caputo said.

State Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said that he was glad to see a bill he’s been working on progress. The bill would allow special-needs students, who do not always attain their diploma at the same time as their peers, to participate in graduation ceremonies with their classmates.

“These kids came into kindergarten with them. When they get to 12th grade, they should at least be able to cross the stage with their peers,” Beach said. The students would receive a certificate marking the event.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, could not be reached for comment.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.