Tomblin comments on legislative session

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Tomblin comments on legislative session
By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter, Charleston Daily Mail

Although the Legislature didn’t take much action on roads and infrastructure over the 60-day session, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the state stands ready to repair bridges and roads after a harsh winter.

Revenues are coming in above estimates, Tomblin said, allowing the state to spend between $75 and $80 million on highway improvements.

“That’s $75 million to $80 million that we’ll be putting in over and above what we normally spend,” Tomblin said. “That will amount to about 700 jobs over the next year. I’ll say by the end of the year people should be seeing quite a bit of improvement in their roads and potholes should be gone before too long.”

The state plans to spend $10 million to repair road slips and slides; $12 million for pothole patching, “which I think people will be happy with,” Tomblin said; $30 million for additional paving over and above the regular paving cycle and $20 million to replace small bridges on secondary roads that has been delayed for several years. The road repairs come just days after the end of the 2015 legislative session, which saw the first Republican majority in more than 80 years. Tomblin said he worked well with Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead, although they didn’t always agree on policy decisions.

The Legislature voted to override a governor’s veto for the first time in nearly 30 years, this time Tomblin’s rejection of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans most abortions after 20 weeks. A similar bill was passed last year, which Tomblin also vetoed based on constitutional concerns. He urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would withstand a constitutional challenge, but lawmakers sent down a similar version in early March. Tomblin vetoed the legislation almost immediately, and the House quickly began taking the steps to override the governor’s decision.

“I told them last year my attorneys and legal advisers feel it is unconstitutional because of what’s going on in other jurisdictions, so I vetoed because I thought it was unconstitutional,” Tomblin said. “I made it very clear if they passed the same bill down here to me, I would veto again. I did and they overrode it and it’s the law of the state now. You take an oath to uphold the Constitution and that’s what I thought I had to do.”

Tomblin said he thinks a group or individual will eventually challenge the legality of the law in court, but that remains to be seen.

“That’s what’s happened in most of the states,” Tomblin said, referring to several lawsuits nationwide challenging certain restrictions on abortion. “It will be up to the attorney general to defend the state, to defend the constitutionality of the legislation.”

Other vetoes this year have mainly been for technical reasons. Tomblin said he’s seen an uptick in the number of bills rejected this year for technical mistakes over the previous two legislative sessions.

“I think it’s probably some new staff; I think it’s a combination of things,” Tomblin said. “There’s printers, proofreaders here in the building. It’s strictly screw-ups and there can be a variety of reasons. We’ve had another five or six vetoes today just on technical problems. It’s good legislation, but it some way got screwed up.”

The Legislature passed 261 bills this session, with 126 coming from the House and 135 from the Senate. Tomblin has signed 58 of those bills, including legislation that modifies the state’s prevailing wage law, requires CPR and conscious choking instruction in public schools and a controversial bill relating to coal mine safety. Some Republican-backed legislation failed to make it through the process, however. The repeal of Common Core and creation of public charter schools are two issues Republicans advocated over the 60-day session, but ultimately failed when the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise. Tomblin, who has several education initiatives of his own, said he’s not sure repealing Common Core or setting up charter schools is the way to improve education in West Virginia.

“It’s been teachers, educators, parents, administrators all working together to try to come up with common standards, especially for the evaluation of our students,” Tomblin said of Common Core. “Having been a student and having been a father, grades in my household were very important in measuring how somebody is doing. To toss out those evaluations ... and not have any way of measuring a student’s progress is the wrong way to go. “There was some good conversation on it and I think we can continue to have good conversation on Common Core in West Virginia. Just because of a vocal group wanting to throw them out completely, it’s the wrong way for our state to go. There may be some improvements or tweaking that needs to be done in the future, but I think the basic framework is right.”

Tomblin said he isn’t sure a public charter school system is right for West Virginia. Although the majority of states have implemented charter schools, West Virginia doesn’t have the population or funds to sustain them.

“I think there have been success stories, but I’m not sure we’d have that same success here,” Tomblin said. “We have a smaller student population and the money supposedly will come from the public schools. What do you do in counties with one high school and they want to do a charter high school? You take part of that school’s money, which might not be the best anyhow, and leave probably the smarter kids going to the charter school and we have the rest left with less money to work with. I’m not sure that’s right for us. In West Virginia there might be a half dozen towns or counties that can support a charter school.”

Now that the session has ended, Tomblin has 15 days to act on policy bills, with the clock starting when he receives them from the House or Senate clerk, and five days to act on budget bills.