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Saving lives, water must be legislature's top tasks

January 29, 2004

The West Virginia Legislature moved ahead with its 2004 agenda this week, trying to craft legislation to keep all-terrain vehicle riders from killing themselves, protect the state's water resources and make it easier for insurance companies to do business in the state.

The ATV bill is the latest version of one lawmakers have tried to pass for seven years. Despite many setbacks, they keep trying because the state has the nation's highest per-capita ATV crash death rate, with 75 dying since 2000.

The provision that has doomed previous bills is a requirement that children wear helmets when riding ATVs on private property.

Though giving a youngster access to a powerful machine with few safety features would seem to be a form a child abuse, opposition continues.

Taxpayers who are expected to foot the bill for emergency transports and long-term care for head injuries should demand better.

On the water resources bill, Gov. Bob Wise's bill would survey water use for the next three years, while other lawmakers, citing the state's vulnerability, want a quicker solution. As it stands now, nothing prevents an out-of-state company from coming in and draining a stream.

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The only recourse for those whose supply is lost is to sue the company in court, where the wheels of justice can grind exceedingly slowly.

Our solution: Since Rhode Island is the only other state that has no water regulations, there are model laws available in the other 48 states, many of which have no doubt survived court tests. Borrow the best and remove the threat.

On the insurance issue, lawmakers must resist the tendency to "reform" the law in a way that would make it more difficult to do business, like the proposal that would prohibit insurance companies from checking credit ratings before they set premiums.

No doubt insurers make some unfair decisions, but that's why there's a state insurance commission with investigative powers.

Instead of trying to protect insurance customers from every possibility, no matter how unlikely, lawmakers should concentrate on ensuring that the state has enough water for its future needs, and that young ATV riders live long enough to drink some of it.

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