Firefighter Funding, Cybersecurity, Cannabis Discussed At Legislative Lookahead 

Legislative leaders met with the media Friday to discuss some expected highlights of the 2024 general legislative session that begins next week.

Man in suit with glasses speaking at podium

Legislative leaders met with the media Friday to discuss some expected highlights of the 2024 general legislative session that begins next week. The annual event is sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association.

Supporting Gov. Jim Justice’s 5 percent pay raise proposal for teachers and all state workers was an issue that Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and House Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, all agreed upon.

“The PEIA Finance Board did move forward with a proposed premium increase, the governor’s pay raise announcement will offset that and we take that seriously,” Hanshaw said. 

Blair said more than 70 percent of the marijuana that gets tested In West Virginia has fentanyl on it. He again called for legislation that applies the death penalty to those convicted of distributing fentanyl.

“Do I think anybody will ever be put to death in the state of West Virginia,” Blair said. “I doubt it. But what we’re wanting to do is send a message out to these animals that are selling us, and manufacturing this, to stay the hell out of West Virginia.”  

Blair also said to expect a Senate initiative to enhance classroom learning by better handling disruptive public school students.   

“What we need to do in the classroom is be able to take that disruptive student out,’ Blair said. “Move them to a classroom where there’s cameras, behavior specialists, and allow those teachers to do their jobs without the disruption.”
Hanshaw told the media the House would make firefighter and emergency medical services recruitment, retention and pay a funding priority. 

“One of the priorities for us in the House this year is making sure that we’ve adequately funded those organizations,” Hanshaw said. “That we’re making sure that emergency responders are available to come deal with the tragedies that happen and confront our daily lives “

Hanshaw praised the $45 million legislative allocation for the Marshall University Cybersecurity Center. He said to expect legislation drafted to enhance cybersecurity statewide for individuals and businesses.  

”Whether we as West Virginia can join the growing number of states around the country that are providing protections, liability protections, liability shields for businesses that implement proper cybersecurity protocols to safeguard their customers and employees’ data from nefarious actors around the world,” Hanshaw said.

Hornbuckle said House Democrats would be the champion of the people and stand up to extremism. He said public education should be put first, before alternative educational opportinities.

“We were able to put aides into our classrooms to help our tiniest mountaineers,” Hornbuckle said. “What we’ve also done is the Hope Scholarship, while affording people the ability to go to private schools and micro schools, charter schools, we’ve actually had dollars leave our state.” 

Hornbuckle advocated a cost-of-living allowance raise for retirees and said he supports legalizing adult use of cannabis.   

That is something that we can have in our toolkit to help pay for items as we go down this journey in moving West Virginia forward,” he said.

Blair was asked if legalizing adult use of cannabis was a way of quelling the fentanyl scourge. He said yes. 

“My gut tells me it might not happen this year,” Blair said. “But you’re going to see it sooner than later because that is a way to combat that issue.” 

Author: Randy Yohe

Randy is WVPB's Government Reporter, based in Charleston. He hails from Detroit but has lived in Huntington since the late 1980s. He has a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Missouri. Randy has worked in radio and television since his teenage years, with enjoyable stints as a sports public address announcer and a disco/funk club dee jay.

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