It appears to be a busy legislative session this year

There will be a lot of attention on Charleston over the next two months.

The state Legislature will be kicking off its regular session in a few days, and there are many “big ticket” items already on the agenda.

On Friday, journalists from around West Virginia gathered for the annual Legislative Lookahead, organized through the West Virginia Press Association, to hear first-hand from state officials and others on some of the potential topics of legislation set to go before lawmakers through mid-March. Hopefully, you took some time to read the coverage of Friday’s panels provided by our Ogden Newspapers journalists in Parkersburg and Martinsburg and now have a better understanding of what might be happening.

One of the big items, just as with last year, will be a focus on education and the wages for state employees. As we all will remember, early 2018 saw a statewide strike led by West Virginia’s educators and school service workers, as well as other state workers, in the hopes of receiving a pay increase and more attention to the woes of the Public Employee Insurance Agency programs.

After several weeks, legislation was passed granting a 5 percent increase in pay, and a task force was created to look at the health insurance concerns. Some proposals were crafted in that area, and I’m sure they will at least be discussed, but there still is a long way to go as costs continue to rise. Gov. Jim Justice, this past fall, announced he plans to propose an additional pay increase, although details still need to be worked out there.

Lawmakers said Friday teacher pay and insurance will definitely be on the agenda, but so will ideas of ways to address areas of concern with the state’s education system as a whole. Some noted low math scores as well as student and teacher attendance as priorities, for example.

Marijuana is expected to return, with this year set to see the beginning of the medicinal marijuana system in the state. Doctors and patients will be issued identification cards in July, according to the timeline set by legislation. However, many areas still must be addressed, including a way to process money into the system.

As we’ve been seeing in Ohio, there probably will be other issues as well, including a readily available supply and processing chain once the system is fully operational. We must remember that West Virginia’s legislation does not include the sale of the plant, only pharmaceutical forms, and I’m not sure enough has been done over the last year to get everything set up as it will be needed.

The state’s budget will always be a focus, as lawmakers look at what revenue streams are needed to meet West Virginia’s needs.

Friday saw some discussion of eliminating portions of the state’s business inventory tax, although so far it seems to only be for some of the larger industries such as manufacturing and energy. The problem there being no apparent decision on what will replace that revenue. If no new revenue source is found, that will mean something will be cut, and that could mean a reduction of some state-provided services.

That’s always a tricky balance to figure out.

There, of course, will be much more in the coming weeks. One local legislator has discussed plans to focus on funding for our state’s roads. Another has ideas concerning the deployment of the West Virginia National Guard. We plan to bring our residents as much about it as we can.

Our newspaper chain will continue to have coverage from Charleston, provided by Steven Allen Adams. It’s not always an easy task for news from our state lawmakers to reach those of us in the Northern Panhandle or other areas farther away from the capitol, so Steve’s thorough reporting on the issues has been of great value in our mission to keep our residents informed.

In the meantime, we also encourage all of you to begin focusing on Charleston to see what is going on as we keep abreast of the actions of those we elect to represent us.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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