West Virginia Coal Association Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton served as the keynote speaker for the April 2 meeting of the Kanawha Valley Mining Institute in South Charleston. Hamilton praised the work of the new legislative leadership as he gave an overview of the recently concluded 2015 session of the West Virginia Legislature and important coal and business-related legislation that was passed.
“We have witnessed the most productive and efficiently run 60-day legislative session the state has experienced in recent memory,” Hamilton said. “No, this was the most productive session during our lifetime. The legislative leadership teams of Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead ran the session like a good business,” Hamilton explained. “In fact, unlike most legislative sessions, consideration on major pieces of legislation began immediately upon session kickoff on January 14 and didn’t end until midnight March 14. Gone was the mentality of spending the first 30 days socializing and easing into the work of session.” Hamilton also praised Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and other Democratic legislators for their willingness to work across party lines to do what is in the best interest of the state and its people.
Hamilton outlined the changes to the Legislature that came as a result of the November 2014 election, with the polar shift of power as Republicans swept into control of both Houses of the Legislature, grabbed all three Congressional seats and picked up the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Sen. Rockefeller.
"The result was a much more business-friendly Legislature," Hamilton said, "with a focus on positive business law changes, tort reform, tax reform and budget reductions." Of the 1,600 bills introduced during the session, 162 of them were coal-related and in fact, the first action by the new Legislature was to elevate the energy committee to major committee status. The first two pieces of legislation passed during the session was the overturning of the state's renewable energy portfolio, which threatened coal mining jobs by forcing a shift to a higher percentage of renewable and alternative sources of energy and legislation creating legislative oversight for the development of the State’s Implementation Plan for President Obama’s Climate Rules.
Additionally, the Legislature passed the Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015 (SB 357), which made significant reforms to help the coal industry compete while improving safety in the state's mines.
A host of significant legislation passed on the business and industrial development front. Just a few of these initiatives include: a host of legal fairness issues; Prevailing Wage Reform; Auto Dealer Franchise Protections; Environmental Regulatory Updates; Industrial Property Protection; Repeal of Energy Portfolio Standards; Storage Tank Regulation; Teacher Certification Expansion; and, Wage Payment updates.
Concluding his remarks, Hamilton noted “Based on their actions, not merely rhetoric, it is easy to be supportive and to heap praise on this leadership team who are genuine in saying they want to see every ton of coal mined and marketed that lies beneath our great state and will use their collective resources to achieve that shared objective.”