With just over two weeks remaining in the 2012 Regular Session, I am very proud of the Senate’s accomplishments thus far. As of this writing, the Senate has introduced 674 bills and passed 98 of them on to the House for consideration. Those numbers indicate a 25 percent increase over the bills considered and passed in the 2011 session.
We have already accomplished tremendous legislative victories, passing a bill to pay down OPEB, the state’s last major remaining unfunded liability, and passing a tax-incentive bill that makes us more attractive to companies looking to locate an ethane cracker plant. However, I am confident the Senate will stay the course and work diligently over next two weeks to produce positive policy for the citizens of West Virginia.
Clearly prescription drug abuse has and continues to be a debilitating problem in our state that has adversely affected all walks of life. According to a report released by the state last summer, West Virginia has the highest per capita overdose death rate in the nation, with prescription drugs being the culprit in nine of every 10 overdose deaths.
Data shows that 15 percent of all arrests in West Virginia involve drugs. Hospitals reported that as many as 22,000 admissions were due to substance abuse in 2009, with 12.2 percent of those admitted into the state’s behavioral health treatment programs due to drug dependency.
As lawmakers we have been and we continue to look at ways to deal with these issues. Last week, the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee passed Senate Bill 437, a measure I lead sponsor, which would create a regulatory framework in place to monitor methadone and other pain clinics. The Department of Health and Human Resources would monitor the clinics, and employees and volunteers at the clinics would need to be certified. Chronic pain clinics would also need to meet certain requirements.
The bill would also create a real-time tracking system for prescription drugs and a separate tracking system for pseudoephedrine products used in the making of methamphetamine. Instead of six days to track purchases, law enforcement would now receive 24 hours notice.
The bill also passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and was reported to the Senate Finance Committee on second reading this week. I am very hopeful that this measure will pass the Senate soon.
In the area of broadband access in West Virginia, we are working to expand coverage throughout the state. Senate bill 635 would allow the Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council to issue broadband middle mile revenue bonds when there are sufficient revenues for the issuance of those bonds. When referring to broadband networks, the "middle mile" is the segment of a telecommunications network which connects a network operator's core network to the local network plant.
A middle mile transportation system is very much like a highway transportation system. By building common roads everyone benefits and the costs are shared in support of commerce, transportation, and access. Middle mile systems do the same thing. They provide a common transport system that lowers cost for all users while providing affordable services.
Broadband not only enhances the convenience of our everyday lives in our home, but it also serves as a vital component to attracting businesses to West Virginia. In the past, to attract a business you needed a road to get there, electricity, water, and sewer. Our mind set must now be to include broadband on any project in which the state is involved in the expansion of utilities.
I look forward to updating you on these and other legislative issues next week.
If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 80th Legislature on the web at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/.
I hear your voice and I encourage all of you, regardless of party or affiliation, to contact me with any concerns you have regarding issues facing our district or our state. You can write to me at: Jeffrey V. Kessler, State Senate, Room 227M, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305.