More than 100 Barbour County residents attended a Chamber of Commerce After Hours event Friday evening at the Barbour County Courthouse to speak with their elected officials. The open forum offered the community the opportunity to have questions answered concerning the work of the current Legislature.
Delegate Mary Poling, D-40th District, who is a Barbour County resident, was joined by Senators David Sypolt, R-14th District, and Bob Williams, D-14th District, in discussing the current session and the hot topics coming from the Capital.
During the forum, the legislators all agreed scheduling a Primary Election for May 14 and a General Election on Oct. 4 was one of the most important pieces of legislation to come from the session that began in January.
LEGISLATIVE DISCUSSION – Senator David Sypolt, far left, R-14th District, Delegate Mary Poling, D-40th District, and Sen. Bob Williams, D-14th District, met with residents of Barbour County Friday evening to discuss the current legislative session in Charleston. The event was hosted by the Barbour County Chamber of Commerce at the county courthouse. (CU and The Inter-Mountain/Ben Simmons).
"One of the most important things we have done so far is set up an election," Williams told the group. "The most important thing I can ask you all to do is participate. We are going to spend a heckuva bunch of money and we had to make a hard decision. We weighed the differences between having a party caucus or a party convention to have candidates selected, versus a primary election. It costs money. It costs about $4 million to do an election in this state. But at the end of the day, we decided it was better for the people of the state to have a voice rather than a small, 600 to 700 people in each party, getting together to select who would be the candidates. Here we are going to have an election of 10 to 12 or maybe 14 people."
Sypolt agreed that the election was one of the biggest issues lawmakers tackled thus far.
"It went through pretty smoothly," Sypolt said. "There was such concern from both the house and the senate, that it would be challenged in court, that it passed very cleanly.
"There was the change of one date and a couple of little issues, but for the most part, it was almost identical from what the governor recommended. I understand there has been at least 10 people file for office so far and most likely it's going to be a very interesting election season this year."
Sypolt, who serves on the finance committee said the budget is always his top concern.
"The budget is always foremost in my mind," Sypolt said. "This year is no exception. Even though we are showing the state is going to be in the black, actually with a surplus potentially of $400,000,000 to $500,000,000, personally I want to make sure that we are responsible with that.
"What scares me is every year I see our budge expand, expand, expand. This year is the same as it did last year and the year before, it is expanding again. We're only in the black and we're only balancing the budget if you don't pay attention to what we owe.
"What I am talking about is the Other Post Employment Benefits, and those are promises made to the public employees, whereby they get health insurance subsidies after they retire and before they turn 65. The accrued liability on that is about $8 billion dollars right now, that's the bad news. The good news is we don't owe it today, it's going to be in the future."
He said now is the time to start preparing for the expense OPEB is going to create in the future.
"This year the governor has a zero in that line item once again and that's a big mistake," Sypolt said. "We need to address that now. In about 2016 it's going to catch up with us. We can make the payments now, but every year it gets more and more. We are up to $138 million to $140 million on the pay-as-you-go, but if we put this off to about 2018 to 2020 we're going to be pushing close to $200,000,000 and it's going to get worse after that.
Williams said another significant piece of legislation discussed during the session is one designed to help law enforcement officers obtain subpoena's quicker when dealing with sexual predators on the internet.
"This bill would allow (Law Enforcement officers) to get the subpoena and then go to Verizon or whoever the carrier for internet services and find out who these scumbags are and where they are and start locating them right then. I think that could be one of the most important pieces of legislation."
Poling, who serves as chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said heath care insurance is always a big issue, especially when it comes to getting coverage with a pre-existing condition.
She also discussed marcellus well drilling, surface owners rights and education issues.