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Kessler: State's home rule law 'a mess'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate President Jeff Kessler said Wednesday that the state's home rule law "is a mess."

Kessler, D-Marshall, made the statement during the morning session of Issues and Eggs -- an annual legislative breakfast held by the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I don't think we ever intended to introduce a home rule bill to handcuff cities to a decision between whether they can grant economic opportunity and foster tax relief or remove dilapidated buildings as a condition whether or not you can carry a gun," Kessler said.

"I would not have a problem repealing that section of the code entirely that we put in there with the home rule bill. I don't think it belongs there."

Kessler's statement was sparked by a question regarding Charleston's impending decision between participating in home rule or getting rid of its gun laws.

During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers passed a home rule renewal bill that revoked participating cities' rights to regulate the sale and carrying of firearms within city limits.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said recently the city hasn't yet made a decision about its participation in home rule. It has until June 1 to decide.

Kessler added that while uniform gun laws are necessary, they are a separate issue from home rule.

Other issues of concern for business leaders focused on upcoming Medicaid costs, business and investment, and substance abuse.

West Virginia faces a budget shortage of more than $80 million. Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, told attendees that coal severance revenue has started to pick up, but current Medicaid costs will be a problem for the next two years.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, spoke on the expansion of Medicaid in West Virginia and the need for mid-level primary care physicians.

It's projected that there will be 93,000 to 100,000 people eligible for Medicaid once it is expanded this year. The Legislature has been told in the past that there aren't enough primary care providers for its current Medicaid population.

"We need to have incentives to try to get physicians to go into primary care," Campbell said.

Business and investment were also topics of the event. Kessler plans to continue making the pitch for a "future fund," which he said would use only a portion of severance taxes to create a long-term savings account for the state.

"Rather than spending every single penny that comes in from that, put some on the side," Kessler said. "In 10 years, five years, 20 year, 50 years from now, we've got a nest egg of money that we can rely on to help operate our government and ... provide services to the people."

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said 2014 is the year to implement a program like Project Launchpad -- an initiative to encourage business innovation in West Virginia.

"Only if [businesses] create new jobs here in West Virginia that don't exist today, we're going to help them with this new tax structure," Skaff said of incentives that might include allowing businesses to keep more withholding tax or giving them a break on business and occupation costs.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the best thing government can do for businesses is "get out of the way."

"We want to lessen the government intervention in your business, free you up to let you do what you do best -- create jobs, make money, hire West Virginians," Carmichael said.

Speaker of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison, touched on his four-part legislative plan, F.E.E.D. An acronym for "families and communities, energy, education, and developing our economy," Miley wants a well-rounded approach to legislating this year.

Miley said his personal top priority is addressing substance abuse in the state. It will take a collaborative effort, Miley said, but investing more money in drug abuse rehabilitation is a place to start.

"I think there's a belief that they're not that effective, but I think we need to educate the public more as to the effectiveness of the programs, measure their success and hold them accountable," Miley said.

This would be the next step in the progress Miley said the Legislature made last year, by passing legislation that allowed for more drug courts to be established in West Virginia.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.

 


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