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Yoder, Unger listed as sponsors of 13 legislative bills

January 17, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Within the first three days of the 78th West Virginia Legislature's first regular session, 16th district state Sens. John Yoder and John Unger had their names listed as sponsors of 13 bills that had been introduced in the chamber last week.

But not all of the proposed legislation that Yoder and Unger publicly support is new.

"Sometimes, it takes three years to get bills passed," said Unger, who was elected to a third four-year term in November.

For the second consecutive year, Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, has followed Yoder's lead in sponsorship of a bill that would provide a housing supplement to West Virginia State Police officers whose monthly mortgage costs $700 or more.

Last year's version of Senate Bill 22 died in the Finance Committee, and Yoder believes it faces an uphill battle again.

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Both senators agree there is no harm in renewing the push for the legislation, which Yoder said helps amplify an overall problem with salaries for state employees working in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties.

Unlike teachers or other public employees, "I think there's more support for troopers because they are involuntarily transferred around the state," Yoder said of the bill's chances to gain passage.

As proposed, a $300 annual supplement would be paid to state troopers who have a monthly mortgage payment of $700 to $745. The supplement would increase incrementally with the cost of housing, according to the bill.

Yoder, R-Jefferson, said he was able to enlist a few more sponsors for a bill that proposes a tax credit be given to employers in West Virginia who provide "qualified" health insurance policies to their workers.

Designed to offset the state's corporate net income tax imposed on employers, Yoder said last year's version of Senate Bill 23 that he sponsored with then-Minority Leader Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, died because of Gov. Joe Manchin's planned special session on taxes.

"Last year, I think the governor gave instructions not to put anything on the agenda. Everybody was anticipating this great special session," said Yoder, who added that the covening of lawmakers last month didn't result in anything meaningful.

Virtually the same legislation now is sponsored by nine more senators, including Unger and the chair and vice-chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee, which has been assigned to consider the bill.

"The idea is to attract employers that provide good health-care coverage," Yoder said.

Unger acknowledged that some bills he previously sponsored generate better ideas and sometimes simply provide an opportunity to continue the debate.

Unger noted his 2005 proposal to improve broadband and other high-technology infrastructure in the state through the passage of the Electronic Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Act (ETOPIA) in Senate Bill 540 died in the House of Delegates, but resurfaced this year with Manchin's support.

"It's kind of like a NASCAR race," Unger said of efforts to get legislation passed. "Sometimes you got to bring in the garage and soup it up a little bit."

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