We are now past the half way point in the 60-day legislative session and we are very busy. We are looking for cost savings wherever we can find them and there will be some hard choices.

By Del. Gary Howell
We are now past the half way point in the 60-day legislative session and we are very busy. We are looking for cost savings wherever we can find them and there will be some hard choices.  
It has been clear from what I am hearing from you, that you do not want taxes increased and that we should focus on controlling government spending by reducing the size of government.  
This week the finance committee completed its budget hearings with the various state agencies.  These hearings are when the state agencies explain why they need the amount of money they are requesting in the Governors budget.  It is then the job of the legislature to see if their request is justified.  The problem is the Governor’s proposed budget increases spending by $318 million compared to the current fiscal year despite the fact tax revenues are expected to decline due to the state’s contracting economy.  
The state’s general revenue estimates are $4.05 billion, but the Governor wishes to spend $4.50 billion.  The legislature is working on a budget that will only spend what we taken in, $4.05 billion, a budget that will be similar in size the current budget we are operating in.
Some of the highlights of the past week include Monday passing H. B. 2653, which extends the Multi State Real-Time Tracking System. The Multi State Real-Time Tracking System is an important tool of law enforcement that tracks purchases of pseudoephedrine to prevent the production of meth in the state.  On Tuesday we increased the penalties for bringing illegal drugs into the state in an effort to crack down on the state’s heroin problem. Sometimes it is interesting to see the different votes from the Potomac Highlands legislators, for example Delegate Sponaugle was the only delegate in our area to vote against the bill.  
On Thursday all of the bills that were up for a vote of the full house came through the House Government Organization Committee, which I chair. The chairman of the final committee a bill comes through is charged with explaining and defending the bill on the house floor.
Two of the bills, HB 2503 and HB 2628, dealt with the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Last year the Atlanta Journal Constitution did a 50-state report card on state laws that deal with medical licensing and how easy it was for a patient to get good information on the quality of their doctor.  West Virginia scored a D, so the executive directors of both boards sat down with the legislature to correct the problem.  We went point by point addressing the problems.  The result was a series of bills to correct the problem and improve patient information and these were two of those bills.
Another bill passed the same day was HB 2540, which will allow temporary licenses for some medical professional for charitable work. This issue was discovered when volunteer groups came in to help in areas damaged during this past summer’s floods. The process of getting a temporary permit to help people was cumbersome; this streamlines the process while requiring volunteers meet the state standards.
On Friday, HB 2526 passed which will allow for the prescribing of Cannabidiol Oil once approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.  Cannabidiol Oil, a derivative of marijuana plant, is about to be approved by the FDA for use in reducing epileptic seizures.  This will be the first authorized use of a medicinal marijuana product in West Virginia.
Many of the bills that the House Committee on Government Organization worked on last week are already on their way to the state Senate after passing the full House, but some passed will be up for a vote this week.  
Two important bills that will help the public are HB 2446 and 2427. These bills require the state Government to maintain specific information on the agency websites that is important to the public, such as office hours, contact information, office location and important forms.  One of the problems that led to the bills was the discovery by my committee staff that several agency websites did not have contact information, office hours and other information that was either incorrect or out of date. We even found some agency telephone contact information had not been updated since 2005, which led to having phone numbers and contact information for state employees that had passed away or had separated from employment years ago.  The public has enough trouble dealing with the bureaucracy of government; the least the government can do is give them the correct information.   
If you have a question, a suggestion on how to improve our state government or need just help with a state agency, then you can always call me at (304) 340-3192 or if you prefer e@mail me at Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov.