Year after year, Tea Party values are carried into the West Virginia Legislature. It's sad — and damaging to the state — when lawmakers ignore beneficial proposals while they boost pistol-carrying and impede desperate girls wanting to end pregnancies. Too many mountain politicians let themselves be swayed by the far-right "God, guns and gays" agenda.
For example, after last year's massacre of school children in Connecticut, West Virginia legislators drafted three dozen bills to increase carrying of concealed firearms. Much of this year's outcome partly followed the same Tea Party agenda.
Lawmakers faced a gigantic 2014 budget deficit, which could have been solved easily if they added a dollar to cigarette taxes. This merely would raise West Virginia to the national average — and also save thousands of Mountain State teens from deadly nicotine addiction. But conservative-minded House Democrats rejected this helpful strategy, holding to a "no new taxes" principle.
The right-wing mentality spelled doom for a human rights bill to save gays from dismissal or eviction because of prejudice. And it doomed medical marijuana to ease suffering by victims of cancer and other horrible diseases.
Instead, what West Virginia got was approval of pistols in Charleston playgrounds and day-care centers — along with a new felony law to throw doctors in prison if they end pregnancies after 20 weeks. (This felony already has been declared unconstitutional elsewhere — but that doesn't deter a majority of the overwrought, fact-challenged West Virginia Legislature.)
And House lawmakers voted to conceal names of people getting pistol permits, so neighbors won't know who is armed to kill. In a democracy, government records are supposed to be open to the people — but not when the gun lobby demands secrecy. Luckily, Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, was brave enough to stand up against gun zealots and blocked the bill in the Senate.
Gov. Tomblin should veto the doctor-jailing bill. He expressed concern that it's probably unconstitutional. If he signs the ugly law, concerned people should sue in an attempt to stop it in court.
Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, summed up the Tea Party outlook rather well:
"We want to focus on gays, abortion and guns, and I have to wonder when that's going to change. We will never get past 50th if we worry more about the next election than the next generation."
Meanwhile, a few progressive steps were taken in the 60-day session. Some revenue from the Marcellus Shale gas boom will be diverted into a future fund to generate long-term earnings to improve West Virginia. However, the bill was altered so that Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, doubts that any money will reach the fund before 2019.
The historic 2014 water contamination crisis produced a broad crackdown on chemical tank farms along streams. It requires yearly inspections, plus early detection systems for water supply intakes and other safeguards. Health advocates wanted even stronger protections.
Once again, efforts to halt the meth lab nightmare by requiring prescriptions for certain cold remedies was defeated by big-money pharmaceutical lobbyists and last-minute chaos.
But lawmakers let new mothers breast-feed in public and made "Country Roads" an official state song. And at the last minute, they gave millions in tax credits to a medical facility at The Greenbrier Resort. And the state-only minimum wage was raised to $8.75 by 2017.
Even more might have been accomplished if the Tea Party mentality hadn't distracted legislators into emotional battles.