Guest column: Deadlines are fast approaching

This week of the 2013 Regular Session of the 81st West Virginia Legislature, lawmakers passed one legislative deadline while we are nearing another. With 60 days in any session, we must conform to several important time lines to ensure we get the proper amount of discussion for each piece of legislation being considered.

This past Monday, March 25th, was the official/unofficial day to introduce legislation in the respective House and Senate chambers. I say official/unofficial because while this rule applies to most legislation, it does not prevent the introduction of supplementary appropriations bills which effect the budget process or bills originating in committee.

It also doesn’t relate to resolutions.

This is an important deadline because the 50th day of the session, April 3rd, is the last day for Senate bills to be considered by the Senate and likewise in the House with House bills. With the requirement that bills be read on three separate days, time is clearly of the essence and committees are meeting often to consider legislation which meets the approval of the majority of lawmakers.

One bill the Senate recently worked on and passed was Senate Bill 371, relating to prison overcrowding, an issue facing states all over the country. One way this bill addresses the issue of overcrowding is by seeking to reduce recidivism and expanding community sentencing options.

The bill was passed unanimously and was called by several of my colleagues a good first step toward state prison reforms.

Based on a year long study of state prison overcrowding by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, the bill would seek to reduce recidivism of released inmates by requiring mandatory supervision for six months to one year. It also would attempt to reduce probation and parole revocations by allowing judges to sentence individuals to 60 to 180 days of “shock” incarceration in Regional Jails or community corrections programs for technical rules violations and minor infractions, in lieu of requiring them to complete their prison sentences.

The bill also would add several responsibilities for the state Supreme Court, including expanding pre-trial risk assessments and overseeing a new Community Supervision Committee.

We must deal with this issue. Earlier this year we were told by West Virginia Corrections’ official that overcrowding is at the crisis stage, with state prisons at capacity and with more than 1,800 inmates housed in critically overcrowded Regional Jails around the state. Like I stated, this will not be a cure all magic potion that will make this issue go away but it is a healthy start in the right direction and a better alternative to simply building more prisons.

That wouldn’t address the root cause of our overcrowding problem. We must also continue to focus on the substance abuse problems that causes many of these prisons and jails to swell to beyond capacity before this issue and other issues such as poverty can be solved.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues on any other pieces of legislation when they come before the Legislature, feel free to contact me here at my Charleston office. My address is: Senator

Jack Yost, State Capitol Complex, Building 1, Room 214W, Charleston, WV 25305. My telephone number is (304) 357-7984 and my secretary is Wanda Casto. When calling the toll free number 1-877-565-3447, ask to be transferred. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process. I look forward to hearing from you.

(Yost, a Democrat from Wellsburg, represents the 1st Senatorial District in the West Virginia Legislature)