West Virginia Delegate Steve Westfall (R-Jackson) filled in The Ripley Rotary Club on this year’s legislative session Wednesday during a meeting at the Dawg Pound.
Westfall said legislators accomplished much at the session, though many of the bills were controversial.
“It was an interesting session, of course, with the teacher walkout. Everyone was on the same page; it just took us a while to all get there,” he said. “It was good to see that many teacher there.”
Westfall noted the budget – totaling $4.8 billion – was passed during the regular session for the first time since 1982.
“Everything for Jackson County that was funded last year was funded this year,” he said, noting that included all of the county’s usual fairs and festivals.
The budget included $107 million in pay increases for teachers, police officers and corrections officers, among others, Westfall said. He noted the raise for corrections officers was significant because it included $6,000 over three years in addition to the 5 percent allocated for the other positions. Most starting corrections officers were making less than $30,000 in a job where they are required to work with violent offenders, he said.
The West Virginia Legislature also worked on bills to expand broadband in West Virginia, including in the Northern Jackson County Public Service District, Westfall said.
Westfall also discussed Senate Bill 415, which permits sports betting in the state’s five casinos, as well as through a digital application, or “app,” with Mountaineer Sports Betting. The app will permit betting on horse races, but only while the device is within the borders of a state where it is legal, Westfall said.
Funds from sports betting in West Virginia will go toward funding the Public Employee Insurance Agency.
“Like it or don’t like it, we’re in the gaming business in West Virginia,” Westfall said. “It’s just another tool in our tool kit.”
The co-tenancy bill was another controversial one in the last legislative session, Westfall said. The bill allows seven or more royalty owners to permit leasing of oil and gas interests if at least 75 percent of the owners agree to the lease, he said. The law, which goes into effect July 1 eliminates the need to lease all co-owners, which was the previous law. Opponents of the bill argued it infringed on landowner rights, specifically those of non-consenting royalty owners.Like it or don’t like it, we’re in the gaming business in West Virginia. It’s just another tool in our tool kit.
Westfall also noted welfare reform legislation passed during the session, specifically the requirement for 20 hours of work for qualifying food-stamp recipients. This requirement only applies to individuals aged 18-49 who have no dependents or children, are not disabled, a veteran or pregnant, and are not receiving unemployment or are in a substance abuse program.
Westfall said there were many more bills passed during the session, which despite the controversy, was mostly productive.
In other Rotary business:
• Club president Denise Toler announced free physicals from 3-6:30 p.m. June 22 at the Jackson General Hospital Learning Center. The head-to-toe physicals help qualify for sports, church, Scouts and Girl Scouts. Forms must be completed and signed by a parent/guardian. There will be hot dogs and chips, sports stations and giveaways.
• Toler announced three dates for the Jackson General Hospital Foundation Eighth Annual Golf Classic. They are: shotgun start at 9 a.m. June 16 at the Green Hills Country Club, June 23 at the Riverside Golf Club in Mason and Aug. 11 at the Woodridge Golf Club in Mineral Wells.
Registration is $65 per player (teams of four). The fee includes 18 holes of golf, a car and lunch. To pre-register, call 304-372-2731. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place, as well as last place, closest to the pin, longest drive. There also will be a 50/50 drawing and door prizes.
• Toler announced Relay For Life will be conducted June 8 on the lawn of the Jackson County Courthouse.