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Lawmakers set priorities for session

February 07, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- MARC commuter train service from the Eastern Panhandle to Washington D.C., still could be in jeopardy without an infusion of state funding, Del. John Doyle said.

In the upcoming legislative session, Doyle said he and state Sen. Herb Snyder "are going to work like dogs" to get money for the train service, which the Jefferson County Democrat believes still is vulnerable.

"If ridership drops off considerably, they will just eliminate the service," Doyle said.

A $2 increase in train fares for the Eastern Panhandle's three MARC stations went into effect Feb. 1, and Doyle said ridership has dropped.

Preservation of the MARC service, along with regulating the location of strip clubs and distribution of federal stimulus money, are among area lawmakers' top priorities when the 79th Legislature convenes Wednesday.

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Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said empowering counties with the authority to restrict the location of strip clubs is a matter of "striking out two words" in state code.

Counties in West Virginia that have planning commissions currently do not have the authority to adopt any restrictions, but counties that have no planning rules for development somehow still have the power to restrict the adult businesses.

The state code that was adopted never was meant to be interpreted by the courts that way, said Blair, who is confident the law could be changed this year.

"We're prepared to deal with that ..." Blair said.

Blair and Doyle said the Eastern Panhandle delegation also is united in opposition to the proposed merger of the state's racing and lottery commissions.

The racing commission has oversight of horse races at Charles Town (W.Va.) Races & Slots, while the lottery commission regulates gaming machines.

Del. Bob Tabb said he has yet to see an explanation for the supposed $1 million in savings the merger would create, and fears the change only would threaten the success of the county's horse racing industry.

"If they combine the two, I believe it will diminish the possibility of getting table games passed in Jefferson County," said Tabb, whose district also includes a portion of Berkeley County.

The industry has helped preserve green space amid the housing boom, and helped the farming community and other supporting businesses, Tabb said.

State Sen. John Unger said he expects economic stimulus money to be on the forefront of legislative matters in the upcoming session and expects special sessions to follow the 60-day regular session as the year unfolds.

While the state's budget for the current year is projected to end with a small surplus, Unger expects a "hold-the-line" first session of the 79th Legislature because of the fear of an expected economic downturn next year.

Even with the prospects of spending being tight, Unger, D-Berkeley, said he will push for money to build a larger maintenance facility to expand MARC service as a means to preserve what many believe is key to economic development.

Unger said he also would like to get tax credits to individuals who use public transportation.

Blair said he would introduce a bill that would require drug testing for people who receive welfare benefits.

"I've been getting phone call after phone call (on this)," said Blair, who added he had stirred up the American Civil Liberties Union as well.

"I'm going to do everything I can to make it constitutional," Blair said of privacy concerns.

Doyle said he expects 10 health-care bills to be introduced and possible legislation to increase the cigarette tax by $1 or more.

If it comes up for a vote, Tabb said he will push for any additional cigarette or alcohol tax revenue to be earmarked for health care and jail bill expenses.

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