Local elected officials said education reform will be one of the top priorities in the upcoming session of the West Virginia Legislature.
The state's recent education audit outlined several deficiencies in the education system and local legislators are hoping to address the problem.
"We need education reform," Del. Bill Hartman, D-43rd District, said. "I think we need to be concerned about our workforce, and that is tied to education. We do not have a lot of people with the skills that we need."
Hartman said the Legislature will have to look at the education audit to begin working on corrective issues.
Del. Denise Campbell, D-43rd District, listed the education audit as one of the biggest issues to be tackled by the Legislature in the session that begins Feb. 13.
"I am currently working closely with other legislators and citizens' groups to create legislation to strengthen our education system, protection of our seniors, strengthening our workforce and to combat substance abuse and to address the need for treatment centers and expanding health care coverage," Campbell said.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-11th District, said education reform is the most discussed topic at the capitol. He said addressing the issues from the education audit that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered last year will be a top priority.
"There has been a lot of press regarding the change of the superintendent, and it has paved the way for change," Barnes said. "It is going to be controversial."
Hartman said another large challenge this year will be the state's budget.
"I think one of the biggest things will be the budget," he said. "Some of the revenues are down."
Hartman said there also needs to be work done with landowner and surface owner rights. He said more legislation also could be needed to help regulate natural gas.
"By 2018 to 2020 there will be more people in that field than coal," he said. "There are some issues with landowner rights that were not introduced last year."
Hartman said there also will be several social issues that need to be tackled, including the cost of "Obamacare." He said the state really needs to determine what the cost of the new federal health legislation will be to the state and its residents.
Hartman and Campbell both agreed economic development and job creation are important to the Mountain State.
Barnes said another important issue facing the West Virginia is prison overcrowding. He said the issue continues to be a "large problem."
"We have to address it," he said. "Are we going to reform criminal law? We also can look at standardized sentencing and the parole process."
Barnes plans to introduce several bills during the session.
"I plan on supporting and sponsoring a bill that will offer a tax credit for residents and businesses that purchase a back-up generator," he said.
Barnes said power outages from the June derecho and Superstorm Sandy brought the issue to light. He said the goal of the bill is to provide a tax credit for businesses who purchase generators so they can stay open during power outages and provide goods and services.
Barnes said he also hopes to introduce legislation that will alter the way individuals are appointed to the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Currently, all three members of the commission are from the Charleston area, and the rest of the state is not represented, he said.
"I would like to see them appointed by Congressional districts," he said. "West Virginia would be better served if there was someone from each district."
Contact Anthony Gaynor by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.