Christmas miracles in West Virginia?

With the 2019 legislative session just around the corner, December tends to be a big news month for state government.

It’s typically when deadlines are placed for various projects. Specifically, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education and the PEIA Task Force are supposed to wrap up this month. But like most things created by the government, don’t expect these committees to go away anytime soon.

Starting with the PEIA Task Force looking at the long-term stability of the state’s health insurance program for public workers and teachers, it looks like it is set to keep meeting. That’s not surprising when you go back and watch the video for their full task force meeting Oct. 10.

That was the first meeting the full task force had since Aug. 16. The task force broke into three subcommittees. The one with the easiest lift, the Public Outreach Subcommittee, delayed presenting its final report to the task force because it couldn’t agree whether to simply present the findings from surveys and public hearings, or actually advocate for what state employees said they wanted.

The Coverage and Plan Subcommittee didn’t get hard to work until Oct. 29, holding three meetings and ultimately going along with the Gov. Jim Justice proposal to lift border county restrictions. And the committee with the heaviest lift, the Cost and Revenue Subcommittee, hadn’t met since Aug. 23.

The Cost and Revenue Subcommittee waited until Dec. 10, after the task force voted to approve the border county initiatives and other recommendations, to meet under the guise of needing to see what was proposed by the other subcommittees before determining how much money was needed. Yet, all they did was vote to recommend Justice’s $100 million PEIA long-term stabilization money.

It was evident there was much more on the minds of the members of that subcommittee, such as the projected $50 million yearly costs for medical inflation, or the issues of spouses who make more than their spouses on PEIA who jump on their partner’s plan (as much as public employees complain outwardly about PEIA, most know it’s a significantly better deal than what we’re getting in the private sector). But they didn’t have time to do all of that.

The task force was supposed to finish up, but Justice wants them to keep meeting. Since they didn’t actually do what they were created to do, that would be a good idea. As for the blue ribbon commission, I predict they won’t have a lot to show for their nearly six months of work.

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Some call it a Christmas miracle. I call it a waste of resources and money. I’m talking about the rescue of three southern West Virginians from an abandoned mine in Raleigh County. Media outlets reported the three young adults had been missing since Dec. 8.

Their families said they were looking for copper. I can only speculate as to why they needed the copper. As I saw someone say on social media, they could have made more money with benefits working for a company already working to remove copper from mines using safe methods. Instead, they went in on their own and got stuck.

I don’t mind that they were rescued, as that’s what first responders do. What I don’t understand is the level of attention Gov. Justice personally paid to this. It was only a few weeks ago that first responders had to call off a search for another person who went into an abandoned mine and was never found. It didn’t get near this much attention. Justice was actually on scene to greet the three Wednesday.

The three were taken to a local hospital, but they’re likely to be — and should be — charged. I also bet you’ll see legislation in January to crack down on metal recyclers. They already do a good job of reporting metal theft to law enforcement and they have to constantly document what comes through their facilities.

Most know when someone walks in with mine copper, because it’s pretty distinct. But inevitably someone tries to further regulate them instead of dealing with the source of the problem, which is more often than not substance abuse — people selling scrap metal to fund a habit just a dangerous as spelunking into a closed mine.

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Lastly, I’m hearing some grumblings about committee assignments and chairmanships in the House of Delegates. The complaint is of geographical diversity — some areas of the state are under-represented in committee leadership positions.

I imagine House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, isn’t having an easy job making these selections, especially after some Republican House members backed Del. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, for a second time for House speaker. Nelson lost by a larger margin when the Republican caucus voted, and some complaining about the geographical diversity issue were not on the winning side.

It doesn’t mean Hanshaw is taking revenge out on those who voted against him, but it does likely mean he is awarding those who stayed true. That might stink to some, but that’s also politics. He is picking based on qualifications and on who stayed loyal. Making someone a chair based on making sure particular parts of the state are represented is nice, but it doesn’t really mean much of anything.

I’m more interested to see what these new committee chairs and vice-chairs do.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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