January legislative roundup
CHARLESTON — County sheriffs from around West Virginia made it clear during the three days of legislative interim meetings here last week that they will be pressuring legislators to grant them access to the state’s prescription drug tracking system. Currently only about 15 members of the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and an equal number of drug task forces around the state have access to this system.
This system collects information about controlled substances, doctors who prescribe these drugs, the pharmacies that dispense them and the individuals who purchase them. Last Monday, Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas asked members of a legislative subcommittee to consider expanding that access to sheriffs of counties not covered by a drug taskforce.
Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, said 20 state counties are covered by taskforces. The group would like the remaining 35 sheriffs to have access to the database.
McComas, who is president of the sheriffs’ association, said the group isn’t asking that “every officer in the state should have access to this (information).”
Meanwhile, another joint House-Senate subcommittee took up a bill to extend the current law that forbids sugary soft drinks in elementary and middle or junior high schools to high schools as well. Currently these drinks are not banned in the high schools.
Jeff Johnson, the attorney for the Joint Committee on Health, told members that any decisions about fruit juices would be in the hands of the Department of Education. Richard Goff, who works in the office of child nutrition, said the policy proposed for high schools would still allow 100 percent fruit juices, milk and water.
He said only one county so far hasn’t eliminated the sugary soft drinks.
The joint committee recommended the bill for passage along with one to erase a section of state code that allows a parent, guardian or someone else in a responsible position to seek a court ruling for the sterilization of someone declared mentally incompetent.
“The Department of Corrections feels this is an archaic piece of legislation that has been on the books for a number of years and is asking that it be repealed,” Johnson told the committee members.
Efforts by some lawmakers who want to increase the number of county magistrates was nipped in the bud by a joint House-Senate subcommittee last Monday when the subcommittee voted 6-4 to refuse to recommend a draft bill to add five magistrates to the current number of 158.
The initial intent of the proposed legislation was to give Monongalia County a fifth magistrate because of a growing population there. But the subcommittee then amended the bill to add magistrates in Berkeley, Kanawha, Raleigh and Wood counties as well. Members apparently were concerned about the cost of $80,000 per year for each new magistrate.
Meanwhile, the legislative committee assigned to monitor the state’s regional jail system heard from a mother last Monday who pleaded with them to take a look at excessive prison terms to ease the growing overcrowded conditions in regional jails and state prisons.
Phyllis Gaspell, a 34-year administrative assistant to the president of District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America, asked lawmakers to study this issue as it pertains to both state prisons and regional jails.
She said her son, now 40, is serving a 15-year to life sentence for delivering one punch. He was given the lengthy sentence even though he had no history of serious crimes such as murder, rape or armed robbery, she added. Gaspell said another man served a single year in a regional jail for throwing one punch that proved fatal.
“I’m just asking for justice,” she said. “(My son) has already served eight years for one punch.”
The next three-day schedule of legislative interim committee meetings will be on Feb. 10-12, immediately preceding the beginning of the 60-day regular 2013 session of the Legislature which will be starting a month later as is customary every fourth year when a governor is inaugurated.
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