Education, transportation and more on minds of Jefferson County representatives

January 25, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Education, transportation, child poverty and alcohol were on the minds of the five Jefferson County representatives who leave for Charleston, W.Va., next month.

The five lawmakers met with 115 members of the Jefferson County Chambers of Commerce on Friday at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center. The county’s three representatives to the House of Delegates are Tiffany Lawrence, D-65th, entering her third term, and freshmen Paul Espinosa, R-66th, and Stephen Skinner, D-67th. Also present were State Sens. Herb Snyder and John Unger, both D-16th District, which covers all of Jefferson County and part of Berkeley County.

Espinosa, whose 66th District — the county’s largest and most conservative — touched on familiar Republican hot-button issues. He said he ran for the House because “Jefferson County needs a strong fiscal conservative voice in Charleston to speak up for limited state government, economic development, education, taxes, regulation and spending.”

Lawrence serves on the education and health and human resources committees and is vice chair of the political subdivision committee. She chairs the legislative internship committee and is a member of the constitutional revision committee that will consider if West Virginia should have a lieutenant governor, which it does not now have.

West Virginia ranks near the bottom, 48th in the United States, in how much it pays its public school teachers, Lawrence said. “Starting salary for a teacher in West Virginia in $27,000,” she said.

Lawrence also said she will push for affordable child care for working families.

Skinner said he has to learn how to talk with delegates from parts of the state who don’t understand the problems Jefferson faces with growth or the fact that it’s West Virginia’s wealthiest county.

Skinner, a Charles Town attorney, will serve on the judiciary and constitutional revision committees.

Tourism is a critical economic issue in the district, which covers Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry and part of the Blue Ridge Mountain area, he said.

One issue that rankles him is the fact that Resort hotels like the Clarion and others are banned by law from serving alcohol until 1 p.m. on Sundays.

“It’s unbelievable that people come to Jefferson County from Washington (D.C.) for the weekend and can’t have a bloody Mary on Sunday morning. We have to start a conversation to loosen up those restrictions,” he said.

Snyder is in his 23rd year representing the area in Charleston.

He said the Legislature has to deal with a budget so tight that state agencies are dealing with a 7.5 percent cut. Snyder will also focus on raising the state’s poverty level by adding more West Virginians to the state’s Medicaid rolls.

He said the Legislature also has to curb the powers of the state’s centralized education department. “They’re turning the teachers into paper chasers,” Snyder said.

In response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting last month, Snyder said the national debate on gun control should not be about guns alone. “We have to take mental health out of the closet.”

Unger is the Senate’s majority leader. Like Lawrence, Unger’s main issue is child poverty. He spoke of visiting a local third-grade class. The issue of school lunch came up when he asked the class if they preferred a longer recess over a second lunch. All but one child chose the longer recess. The boy told his classmates that if he ate a second lunch he wouldn’t have to eat supper and take food away from his parents who didn’t have much themselves.

“If we don’t get child poverty right nothing else will matter,” Unger said.

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