The Times West Virginian

December 30, 2013

Coalition finalizes legislative agenda

Anti-poverty group seeks higher minimum wage and targets meth, tobacco

By George Hohmann
For the W.Va. Press Association

PARKERSBURG — After months of meetings and discussions, the “Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty” coalition’s approved 2014 state legislative agenda focuses on issues ranging from increasing the minimum wage to adding 30 minutes of physical activity to each school day.

The coalition will also support the creation of ‘Future Fund’ from a portion of state severance taxes and call for legislative action on the availability of pseudo ephedrine, which is diverted to make meth.

The field of policy issues that make up the coalition’s 2014 platform was narrowed from 20 to six at the organization's annual meeting here on Dec. 13 and via online voting that ended Monday Dec. 16. More than 900 religious, business, union, youth, community and school leaders from across the state voted on the platform, according to coalition officials.

“The vote only matters as much as what we do after the vote,” Stephen Smith said at the annual meeting. Smith is executive director of the West Virginia Coalition for Healthy Kids and Families and is the leader of the “Our Children, Our Future” coalition.

“If your issue wins, you’re committed to a whole lot of stuff,” he said, including getting supporters to the state Capitol to meet with lawmakers and finding people affected by the issue who will testify at legislative hearings.

The issues that received the most votes, the lead sponsoring organization or organizations, and contact information are as follows:

• Implement a multi-year plan for statewide expansion of in-home family education programs.

• Increase the minimum wage.

• Preserve funding for Family Resource Networks and Starting Points Family Resource Centers.

• Add 30 minutes of physical activity to each school day.

• Create a “Future Fund” from a portion of state severance taxes.

• Address pseudoephedrine, which is diverted to make meth; provide funding for peer-based substance abuse recovery; remove barriers to employment for those in successful long-term recovery.

The coalition formally announced the platform at a press conference in Clarksburg on Dec. 18. Members of the coalition, which is composed of more than 150 organizations across the state, have promised to work for passage of the platform when the state Legislature convenes Jan. 8.

The coalition also endorsed the issues that received the sixth through 10th most votes:

• Increase the tax on tobacco products.

• Provide low-income parents with stipends to receive leadership training and become classroom aides in a pilot program at three to five schools.

• Prohibit the use of food stamp benefits to buy non-nutritive soft drinks.

• Require employers to provide accommodations for pregnant women.

• Pass the Quality Homes, Quality Jobs Act, which would combine housing and job training opportunities for young adults.

Voting on the platform came after a year of community meetings, gatherings in August at Beckley and Bridgeport, and a September symposium at the state Capitol, where members of the House and Senate Joint Committee on Children and Families were briefed.

Smith outlined the coalition’s upcoming schedule during the meeting, which was at the Boys and Girls Club of Parkersburg. In addition to regional forums in February and March on dates and locations to be announced and a voter-registration drive, it includes:

• “Kids & Families Day at the Legislature” at the state Capitol on Feb. 4. “We need to fill the building,” said Alyson Clements, outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

• A nonpartisan drive to get 10,500 additional West Virginians registered for the May 13 primary election and to get more residents signed up for health insurance by March 31, the Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline.

• “Try This!”, described as “a conference for local people working for a healthier West Virginia,” June 6-7 at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon.