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Silver Haired Legislature to begin 3-day fall session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Silver Haired Legislature, which debates and offers solutions to real problems facing the state, will begin its three-day fall session with a dinner at the Charleston Moose Club Wednesday evening.

Silver-Haired House Speaker George Moore of South Charleston has been a member for three years.

"We want to recognize problems of all West Virginians, not just senior citizens," he said. "There will be about 100 of us at this week's session."

The state Bureau of Senior Services helps organize elections to the Silver Haired Legislature and also helps plan its meetings in Charleston. The bureau's four Area Agencies on Aging and local senior centers also help out.

The Charleston Moose Club will host buffet dinners for the Silver Haired legislators Wednesday and Thursday, beginning at 6 p.m.

Speakers at Wednesday's dinner will include: Raamie Barker, senior adviser to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Steve McElroy, senior assistant to Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; and Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha.

On Thursday, Silver Haired legislators will meet for discussions at the Marriott in downtown Charleston.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, will speak to a joint session of Silver Haired legislators Thursday morning and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin will speak at Thursday's dinner.

On Friday, legislative sessions will be held at the state Capitol between 9 a.m. and noon, in the House Chamber and in a conference room for Silver Haired senators because the Senate chamber at the Capitol is currently being worked on.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will speak after lunch in the Rotunda. Friday's sessions are open to the public.

Twenty-eight position papers have been prepared and distributed to participants. Many of them will be debated at this week's legislative sessions. Some will be accepted and distributed to the state's elected legislators.

"I would hope the Legislature would use us as a stalking horse for some of these issues," said Moore, who has raised llamas on his South Charleston farm and sold them to people as pets and/or sources of llama fur.

The Silver Haired Legislature's position papers focus on issues that include enforcing regulations for handicap parking, requiring prescriptions for all drugs used to make methamphetamine, making it easier to register as an organ donor, reducing personal property taxes for vehicles owned by people over 60, preventing financial abuse of elderly people, making it easier to renew driver's licenses, and properly disposing of hay-bale coverings.

The new position paper about organ donors advocates that all West Virginians be listed as organ donors, unless they choose not to be donors.

"Today, 60 percent of all West Virginians are in favor of being an organ donor," Moore said, "but only 30 percent, or less, are actually signed up to become donors."

Today, residents with a driver's license can routinely sign up when getting or renewing their license.

Another paper focuses on "decriminalizing, regulating and taxing the marijuana industry to fund rehabilitation programs."

"Prison overcrowding is a big issue," Moore said. "It is only a matter of time before we will have so many people convicted that we will have to spend $300 million on building a new prison.

"Marijuana is probably the largest agricultural product in the state, which would generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxes, if it became legal."

Some members of the Silver Haired Legislature are expected to defend all the political issues raised during their sessions and by the position papers. Other members are expected to oppose those positions to encourage debate.

The senior legislature will meet again beginning the second Tuesday in June 2014, Moore said.

Barker said, "The Silver Haired Legislature helps develop an agenda for senior citizens' interests for the regular state Legislature.

"They go through the stage of electing a Senate president and a House speaker and leadership. Their chambers vote on what they want to present to the state Legislature when it meets."

Issues Silver Haired legislators typically focus on, Barker said, include grandparent's rights, tax relief for retirees, better health care, increases in retirement benefits and opportunities to serve as volunteers.

"Health care is always a big issue," Barker said. "I think the Silver Haired Legislature is a really good program. My father [Fletcher "Shag" Barker] was always involved in it after he retired.

"Senior citizens get elected on a local level," he said. "Then, they also come to Charleston to lobby legislators about their problems.

"They have a lot of political clout, especially since our state has one of the greatest percentages of retired people of all 50 states."

The state gives $20,000 a year to help fund the Silver Haired Legislature.

"That helps pay for hotel expenses for the senior legislators," Moore said, "but we pay for almost all of our other expenses, including meals and mileage."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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