By HARRY KEITH WHITE
House Finance Chairman
It has always been and will continue to be one of the great honors of my life to serve as the House of Delegates representative for the 21st Delegate District in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Having had some time to reflect on the accomplishments of the recent Regular, Extended and Budget Sessions of the 80th West Virginia Legislature I feel as though now would be a good time to remind the citizens of southern West Virginia of a few of the major initiatives the Legislature tackled during that time.
During the regular session there was a total of 2,029 bills introduced, 678 being Senate Bills and 1,351 House Bills. A total of 213 bills, roughly 10 percent, completed legislative action and were either signed into law or vetoed.
One of the more important laws we passed as a Legislature was a comprehensive mine safety bill, House Bill 4351, which seeks to prevent future tragedies like the explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine which killed 29 miners in April of 2010. The state recently remembered the two year anniversary of this tragedy with a wreath laying ceremony at the Miner’s Statue on the Capitol grounds.
This measure has a number of new requirements including more responsibility for a mine superintendent to check safety books, a provision that makes it illegal to tip-off mine officials about a pending safety inspection and provisions to keep coal dust explosions down with more rock dust. Also, a new felony charge is outlined within the bill. In the event of a mine fatality, those involved who willfully or knowingly violated mine safety standards could face up to five years in prison. The bill also includes the creation of an anonymous tip hotline which would allow callers to confidentially report violations of mine safety. Each one of these changes address problems which were seen as issues that may have contributed to the accident at UBB.
This bill also mandates a future study of these issues and recommendations made to us regarding future changes that may need to be done as a result of the study. We must continue to be proactive when it comes to miner safety and pass preventative measures before another tragedy occurs.
On another topic, the budget we carefully crafted and passed is one that continues the recent trends of maintaining current available services to our citizens, especially our seniors and those in most need. States around us have, in recent years, been forced into budget cuts and layoffs to balance the budget while West Virginia has weathered the national economic downturn through fiscal responsibility and planning.
Coming budgets will see more scrutiny as we expect shortages in tax revenues and other areas of the budget so we will have to tighten our belts even further. However, I will do whatever is in my power to ensure that the services we render to our citizens and especially aging population remains intact and we continue to grow our economic base to make West Virginia better for the next generation as well.
In the coming weeks I will continue updating my constituents regarding the highlights of the past session as well as providing information about what the Legislature is looking at in the interim period.
If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues or on any other pieces of legislation when they come before the Legislature, feel free to contact me here at my Charleston office. To write me, my address is Delegate Harry Keith White, Building 1, Room 460M, State Capitol, Charleston, WV 25305. To call me please call (304) 340-3230 or call Toll free at 1-877-565-3447 and ask to be transferred. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process