CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the West Virginia Legislature two-thirds of the way through its 2012 session, a pair of early and major successes has helped propel Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 16-item agenda.
Tomblin's proposed tax break for attracting a multibillion-dollar chemical plant became the session's first bill to pass. The Democrat then won approval for his plan to cover the state's last major unfunded liability, an estimated $5 billion shortfall from future public retiree health-care costs.
"It's kind of unusual that major pieces of legislation would be passed, would be finished so early," said Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley.
With 20 days left in the session, the agenda's two other key bills cleared committee hurdles this past week. One proposes various mine safety measures and is heading to a vote in the House of Delegates. It was amended to expand required random drug testing to all mine employees, not only certified miners.
"There are some differences of opinion, but I think we can resolve those and get that safety legislation passed," Tomblin told The Associated Press on Friday. "What we're aiming at is the people directly associated with the mining process."
The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee endorsed the other bill, which among other things proposes that the state join a multistate computer system that tracks the sales of cold medicines that can be used to make methamphetamine. The committee rebuffed an attempt to require prescriptions for those medicines, however.
With scrutiny of Tomblin's 2012-2013 state budget plan ongoing, the rest of his agenda is moving as well. The House last week unanimously passed his bid to continue to exempt the state's timber industry from the severance tax on natural resources.
The House and Senate have exchanged his bills meant to aid the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. The 10,000-acre complex will host next year's Boy Scout National Jamboree and is slated to be the home of the 2019 World Jamboree. Each event is expected to attract tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
Tomblin's bills would ensure that medical professionals could volunteer at the jamborees, and that surrounding counties could provide needed school buses and drivers.