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Sense and nonsense in West Virginia Legislature

January 23, 2004

As the West Virginia Legislature gears up for its 2004 session, Charleston has seen a mixture of the silly and the serious. Some lawmakers are making a real effort to grapple with important issues, while others seem content to make fools of themselves.

In the foolishness category, there's the continuing debate over a bill to mandate some safety in operation of all-terrain vehicles.

Lawmakers know they have to do something, since ATV crashes have killed 75 citizens of the state in the past three years. But many don't want to do too much, for fear of angering the "it will never happen to me" faction.

The starting point for the debate is last year's bill, which would exempt those who ride on private property from any restrictions and allow riders to use 10,000 miles of paved public roads. It would, however, mandate safety classes for children and helmets for those under 18.

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Since the burden of funding the emergency response to accidents and the aftercare required will fall on the general taxpayers, it would be nice if someone gave their interests some consideration. We'll see.

Then there's insurance reform, designed to keep insurer from abandoning the Mountain State. One amendment offered would bar insurance companies from taking a person's credit history into account when setting premiums, as if insurers will write any policies at all if they can't charge higher-risk customers higher premiums.

However, lawmakers have left alone a proposal by Gov. Bob Wise, which would create a unit to probe claims thought to be fraudulent and investigate allegations of insurance company misbehavior.

Finally, there's a proposal to ban state elected officials from putting their names on anything paid for by government - the taxpayers, really - while they're running for office.

That would bar state officials from narrating a government-sponsored get-out-the-vote commercial, as Secretary of State Joe Manchin did recently. Or putting their names on fliers passed out with state employee paychecks as done by Roger Pritt, the Motor Vehicle Commissioner, who's now running for secretary of state.

We agree with Del. Dan Foster, the bill's co-sponsor, who said "I believe the taxpayers prefer we spend their money in other ways."

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