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Opinions of Regular Legislation Session differ in Senate

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Opinions of Regular Legislation Session differ in Senate
By Aaron Payne | WV MetroNews

Opinions on the 2016 Regular Legislative Session and if it helped advance West Virginia vary depending on who you are speaking with.

After gaveling out at midnight on Day 60, Senate President Bill Cole (R – Mercer, 06), said he felt like it was full of needed change.

“We’ve done more to advance the cause of making West Virginia a state that is conducive to the job creators, to bring in the jobs that we so desperately needed. We moved additional legal reforms, we moved regulatory reform, Right to Work. We’ve done some many things, I believe, that will open our state up.”

Across the isle, the positive feelings were not mutual as many in the minority party were happy to see the end.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D – Marshall, 02) said the session was one of missed opportunities, listing legislation that didn’t make it out.

“We were optimistic we would take some comprehensive review of fixing our roads, that didn’t get done. Fixing PEIA, that didn’t get done. Comprehensive substance abuse work really wasn’t done. You’re looking at Work Force Development and Education issues that were overlooked as well.”

While the issues were discussed, some Democrats in the Senate said that not enough was done because of gridlock leading to running out of time.

The gridlock, they claim, was created by the majority party putting “divisive” legislation at the top of its priorities.

Kessler pointed to the defeated Religious Freedom Restoration Act as his top example for legislation that slowed things in the Senate.

“No one could give me one example of religious liberty that had ever been put under assault in West Virginia ever,” he said. “So someone’s got to to explain to me why we spent three weeks fooling with something that didn’t create one job and wasn’t a problem at all in our state.”

He indicated there was disappointment amongst fellow Democrats in the Capitol that this type of legislation led to a balanced budget nowhere near ready for passage as the Senate and House could not agree on how to compensate for an increasing deficit in revenues.

Cole defends the agenda the majority party took up in the 2016 Regular Legislative Session, claiming it was necessary to disrupt the status quo of previous administrations that led to the current state of the Mountain State.

He also believes that they will be ready as the time to submit a budget comes and that a slight delay might be a good thing.

“We’ll work hard between the Senate and the House to come to terms on a budget, send it down to the governor and in all likelihood there’s a veto and a special session,” Cole said. “I actually think that’s a good thing because I think that gives us another month or two to see what the actual collections are and where we can expect to be next year.”

The extended session on the budget begins Monday. If legislators are not able to get close to an agreement within that time, the governor has indicated he would call for a special session.