CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 2013 session of the West Virginia Legislature was supposed to focus chiefly on school reform, but gun hysteria grabbed the spotlight. At least 33 bills have been introduced to boost pistol-carrying and assault weapon ownership in the Mountain State. Retired state Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely said lawmakers had a bizarre response to the Connecticut massacre of first-graders. Legislators might as well chant "more guns, more guns."
Aside from the House stampede to revoke all local gun safety laws, another proposal (H.B. 2911) would hide pistol permit records, making it impossible for West Virginians to know if neighbors have loaded guns in their pockets.
And don't forget the nutty bill to declare federal gun safety laws "unenforceable" in West Virginia -- and to impose state prison terms on U.S. judges or FBI agents who try to enforce them.
Part of the debate has centered on whether Charleston Mayor Danny Jones called gun zealot legislators "idiots" (or whether he merely thought so privately, to himself).
This fracas may make some people wonder whether West Virginia legislators are capable of intelligent action on other issues. Nonetheless, now that the session is at its midpoint, several important proposals are afoot. For instance:
School reform -- We don't know whether law changes can improve the pathetic scores of this state's students in standardized testing -- but lawmakers must try. Gov. Tomblin wants to attack the problem by creating full-day preschool for 4-year-olds, downplaying seniority in teacher hiring, allowing idealistic volunteers of Teach for America to fill classroom vacancies, etc. Teacher unions are fighting fiercely against this plan -- but we hope they lose.
Human rights -- House Bill 2865 would add gays to the state Human Rights Act, protecting them from being fired or evicted because of their orientation. Charleston already expanded its city human rights law to provide that safeguard -- and expanded the city hate crimes law to protect them from "gay-bashing." Will legislators have courage enough to display this humane tolerance?
Tobacco death -- West Virginia has America's worst cigarette smoking rate -- and a plague of sickness and early death results. Reformers say that adding $1 to the state cigarette tax would prevent multitudes of teens from becoming addicted to nicotine, save 20,000 West Virginia lives, avoid $17 million yearly medical bills, and give the state an extra $25 million in revenue. It's a win-win proposal.
Medicaid expansion -- Under America's new Affordable Care Act, extending Medicaid to families earning less than 133 percent of the poverty level would provide health insurance to 120,000 "working poor" West Virginians, bring $500 million federal funds to West Virginia, and create 6,000 jobs in this state. Why aren't lawmakers jumping at this opportunity?
Library rescue -- After the state Supreme Court wiped out major funding for the Kanawha County Public Library system and several others around West Virginia, some legislators drafted a rescue proposal requiring all county school boards to give 1 percent of their budgets to local libraries. This, or some other solution, should pass.
Prisons -- Grotesque overcrowding may force West Virginia taxpayers to shell out $200 million for another large prison -- but Gov. Tomblin wants to avoid this ugly prospect by putting more nonviolent drug felons on probation, and granting early release and tight supervision for many now behind bars. This plan is wise.Less than a month remains in the 2013 regular session. We hope it produces something more than gun hysteria.