With forty-five days of the 60-day 2013 legislative session complete, a total of 72 bills originating in the House of Delegates have gained passage and are now under consideration in the state Senate. Among the bills approved by the House to date are HB 2434, which would provide pay raises to magistrates in less populous counties; HB 2477, which would permit auxiliary lighting on motorcycles; HB 2534, which would require individuals pawning items to present photo identification; and HB 2586, relating to qualifications for a license to practice embalming.
While I suspect that the adoption of each of these legislative proposals was welcomed by their various constituencies, I can’t help but be reminded of Clara Peller in the 1984 Wendy’s commercials when she repeatedly asked, “Where’s the beef?” Unfortunately, none of these bills passed by the House will, in my opinion, appreciably improve the business climate or the prospects for job creation in our state.
Last week, the House approved legislation that would “authorize the establishment of job creation work groups to obtain information available to assist the Legislature’s efforts to take effective action to increase and attract jobs in West Virginia.”
As I stated on the House floor, I found the proposed legislation a bit perplexing not because I don’t believe it’s important to ask businesses what can be done to support their job creation efforts, but because the proposal seemed to suggest that it’s a mystery how we can enhance West Virginia’s business climate and attract quality businesses and jobs to our state.
I pointed out that each member had received a copy of the West Virginia Chamber’s “2013 Policy Recommendations for Positive Growth in West Virginia” prior to the session that outlined a host of state policy issues to be addressed. Among the issues on which the Chamber urged action are comprehensive civil justice reforms, tax modernization, jobs impact statements, state health care reforms, and the Drug-free Workplace Act. While I ultimately supported the legislation, I shared my belief that if we’re serious about job creation, many of the answers are already before us.
According to United States Bureau of Labor statistics, as of January, 2013, more than 60,000 West Virginians are out of work. Yet there appears to be no sense of urgency by the House leadership to consider legislation that will begin to put West Virginians back to work.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with attendees at the West Virginia Manufacturers Association’s M2M Marcellus to Manufacturing conference here in Charleston and appreciated the opportunity to hear industry leaders share their vision for business development in our state.
Participants with whom I visited expressed optimism about the future of ethane development and the potential for jobs and business expansion. I found this particularly heartening in light of my sponsorship of HB 3047 that would dedicate a percentage of the state excise tax on additional natural gas production to a tax reduction fund. If enacted, the state tax on business equipment and inventory — widely viewed as an impediment to job creation — would be eliminated and the fund could be used to assist counties and school systems in making up revenues lost by these tax reforms. However, this proposal is one of a number of jobs bills that have yet to be taken up in committee.
Other bills that have yet to be considered are HB 2844, which would require a job impacts statement to be completed by the West Virginia Development Office for certain proposed legislation that may cause an impact on the West Virginia economy; HB 2575, which would require that prevailing wage rates within a county be based on wages paid by employers based in that county; HB 2576, which would repeal requirements that prevailing wages be paid in connection with public improvements; HB 2596, which would prohibit employers and labor unions from requiring employees to become or remain members of labor unions or pay dues or other fees to a labor organization as a condition of employment; and HB 2182, which would encourage the development and use of emerging technologies to create good jobs and grow West Virginia’s economy.
It’s often said here at the Capitol that the most important vote that members of the House of Delegates cast each session is the first one – the election of the Speaker of the House – for it’s the Speaker who appoints the various committee chairs who in turn set the agenda for their respective committees. The reluctance of the leadership to take up meaningful job creation legislation over the first three-quarters of the session has done nothing to dispel this belief. While the significant Republican gains in the House have enabled our caucus to prevent some legislation that would be particularly harmful to our economy, it would appear that true economic reform may have to await further Republican inroads in 2014.
— Paul Espinosa, a Republican, represents District 66 in the West Virginia House of Delegates