Lawmakers set up a committee to address the needs of people in coalfield communities. What did they come up with? Plus, Gov. Jim Justice finally held his in-person State of the State address last night, after his bout with COVID-19 forced him to deliver his constitutionally required message to the Legislature in writing. Did what the governor said match up with reality? That and more this week.
A group of lawmakers traveled around the state last year, listening to residents of coalfield communities about what would help them. The lawmakers met last week and, according to reporter Emily Allen, they had dozens of recommendations. But there were a couple of problems.
Only one of the ideas, which would create a statewide commission to help local governments get federal money, had even been made into a bill. And the committee’s ideas aren’t new; many of them have been tried before to various degrees. Either they were bills that weren’t approved by lawmakers, or they became laws that haven’t done much, or they were ideas that haven’t gone anywhere.
One of the committee’s leaders promised more bills from the group, but there’s less than three weeks left to introduce any such bills.
State of the State
Gov. Jim Justice gave a State of the State address in person on Thursday evening, two weeks after he delivered a written version to the Legislature. Several Mountain State Spotlight reporters working together showed that while Justice, as most governors do, used the speech to trumpet his successes, some of what he said doesn’t stand up.
The governor touted the state’s economic “rocket ship ride,” but didn’t note the huge role that federal funding has played in the state’s economy over the pandemic years. He noted the state’s record-low unemployment rate, but much of that is because people aren’t in the labor market at all. There’s lots more in the story.
Mountain State Spotlight reporters are keeping track of other developments at the Legislature through our Capitol Tracker. Among them:
| Reporter Quenton King is watching a bill that would prevent employees of or applicants for any government agency from having to give any medical information. The Senate Workforce Committee talked about the wide-ranging bill, and noted – among other potential issues – that it would prevent an employer from asking if an employee currently had any contagious disease.
| One of state Senate President Craig Blair’s top priorities this session, a state-run mutual insurance company to issue reclamation bonds to coal companies, has passed the Senate and is already in the House Natural Resources Committee. As reporter Ian Karbal noted when the bill was on the Senate floor, Blair says the bill is meant to save the state from huge debt if coal companies go bankrupt and leave the state on the hook to clean up their sites.
| The Senate Judiciary Committee has discussed a bill that would limit the length of time people can draw unemployment benefits, depending on the state’s current unemployment rate. Reporter Douglas Soule is watching that, and notes that the state’s unemployment rate is the lowest on record at 3.7%. (Douglas has also written about how bills to change the unemployment system could hurt the very people the system is meant to help.)
You can find lots more bills that we’re following in our Capitol Tracker. And if you want to know more about how the Legislature works and haven’t signed up for our Power and Possums newsletter course, you can do that. It’s just six newsletters, and you get the first one after you sign up.
| MetroNews reports that the state Senate overwhelmingly supported a bill that would let the state treasurer’s office block the state from doing business with banks whose policies take into account the effects of fossil fuels on climate change. Two senators opposed the bill.
| The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that lawmakers are fast-tracking bills that would repeal the state’s ban on nuclear power. In that story, the lawyer for the state Department of Environmental Protections says his agency would likely be responsible for regulating nuclear waste, but doesn’t have any regulatory authority to do so.
| The Gazette-Mail also takes stock of a bill overwhelmingly passed by the House that would further cap monthly co-payments for people who are prescribed insulin. The cap now stands at $100; the bill would lower it to $35.