I am finally settled in Charleston, although it has taken some time to get used to living in a hotel. It can be a struggle to eat right and get adequate exercise. Getting to know my new colleagues has been one of the best experiences of the last two weeks. Delegates from across the state, both Republican and Democratic, care deeply about moving West Virginia forward, and although we may differ on the approach to policy issues, it is much easier to make important compromises than many might expect. The atmosphere is certainly not as partisan as Washington, and the general good will helps with collaboration at the committee level. I hope I can say the same thing in late April.
This week I participated in several events including Kids & Families Day in support of the new coalition to examine and eliminate childhood poverty. I am encouraged by the tone the Governor recently set in his proposed budget by restoring funding for the childcare subsidy. Not only is this an effective tool in the battle over poverty, but this will be a huge help to the Shepherdstown Daycare Center. The need for the subsidy is underlined by the fact that 50% of single mother households have children living at or below the poverty level. This is simply unacceptable.
I am also heartened to see that the Governor wants to expand pre-school programs and offer full-day instruction by the 2016-17 school year. I cannot say it enough: the more we invest in early in children, the more we save later. This is key not just to lift our children out of poverty, but to transform our workforce.
While I am encouraged by what I see from the Justice Reinvestment proposals to lower the prison and jail population, the recent report and proposals from the Council on State Governments on West Virginia does not address the problems we have today. The projections would have the prison population at roughly the same number in 2018 as it is today even if all of their suggestions are implemented. We must be more aggressive at looking at sentencing reform and community based support for dealing with our citizens who have completed their time in prison. Too often we end up paying a higher price for recidivism when we release people from prison without any type of support system.
The Justice Reinvestment proposal places a lot of focus on providing more substance abuse and mental health programs throughout the state. If we move forward with these proposals, they will need fairly serious funding. The idea behind the whole proposal is that the later savings will more than make up for the initial investment. This makes sense, but it still does not deal with our immediate prison overcrowding problem. Make no mistake: our prison and jails are overcrowded today. Our counties-and therefore us---are bearing the brunt because counties are paying for our regional jails. I hope we make serious headway.
Lastly, the Governor's education bill has just been introduced. While a lot of folks have made immediate comment, we really need to see the bill debated to really understand what is in it. I look forward to the updates from the Education Committee in the House and to participating in the final votes. From what I can understand, there is something for everyone to like and dislike in the bill. That just might mean that it's a good place to start.
If you will be in Charleston during the legislative session, please let me know in advance. My cel phone is 304-506-2113, and my email is Stephen.Skinner@wvhouse.gov.