The 2014 Regular Legislative Session started on Wednesday, Jan. 8, and is now under way.
It is an honor to serve my second session as a State Senator for the First District which encompasses Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and parts of Marshall Counties.
The regular session is 60 days in length and will conclude on March 8, 2014. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into each legislative session as I anticipate that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 bills will be submitted for the Senate's consideration.
The highlight of the first week of session was the Governor's annual State of the State address. This year Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's address focused on accomplishments that West Virginia has achieved over the last several years. Some of the achievements discussed included development of the State's Rainy Day fund which currently has a balance of approximately $920 million dollars and is among the healthiest Rainy Day funds in the nation, as well as the reduction of an $8 billion unfunded liability in Workers' Compensation to less than $500 million.
Another positive in the Governor's address was the announcement by Brazilian company Odebrecht of its intention to locate a billion-dollar ethane cracker plant in Wood County, in close proximity to the Northern Panhandle.
I agree with the Governor that construction of the plant would be a "game-changer" for West Virginia and in particular for the Northern Panhandle where it will further stimulate the already on-going natural gas boom.
The Governor also unveiled his new policy plans for the upcoming session some of which included his continued interest in public education reform.
In his efforts to enhance public education, Governor Tomblin has proposed the implementation of a new performance grading system for public schools; an investment in the future generations of our state in the form of a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel; and initiatives which will place an emphasis on education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
I was proud of the governor's decision to highlight the positive qualities and accomplishments of West Virginia during the majority of his speech.
I think that far too often the public policy debate in our state is overly negative in nature and places an undue emphasis on our state's perceived deficiencies.
While we should never turn a blind eye to our problems nor cease efforts to make improvements to our state, we as public officials should commit to taking a positive approach to solving problems and doing a better job of promoting West Virginia, its accomplishments, its people and its values to the rest of our fellow Americans.
Additionally, during the upcoming session, I anticipate that the Senate will consider several major new policies, one of which will be the creation of a West Virginia "Future Fund" which will be generated by saving a portion of the tax money derived from oil and gas severance taxes.
The fund would be similar in concept to those created by other states with abundant oil and gas reserves such as Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. The purpose of the fund is to stabilize the state's economy in the future and to provide a source of income for various areas which might include infrastructure, economic development, salaries and tax relief.
I also have several pieces of legislation which I will be introducing this session some of which include 1) The "Made In America Bill" which will promote the use and or purchase of American Made Goods in state contracts and 2) a bill to increase the acreage of the Highlands TIF district located in Ohio County to allow for the financing and construction of a new Interstate Interchange and increased economic development in the area.
During the course of this legislation session I will serve on several legislative committees including: Judiciary, Transportation and Infrastructure, Military, Labor, Government Organization, and Enrolled Bill. I will also serve as Vice Chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee.
I encourage all of my constituents to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please send letters to Senator Rocky Fitzsimmons, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 204-W, Charleston, WV 25305 or 1609 Warwood Ave., Wheeling WV, 26003. You can also call me at 304-357-7918 (Charleston) or 304-277-1700 (Wheeling) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Fitzsimmons, a Democrat from Wheeling, represents the 1st Senatorial District in the West Virginia Legislature)