- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

March 4

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on Tomblin’s veto:

Three times, Earl Ray Tomblin has taken the oath of office of governor of the state of West Virginia. Central to that oath is a promise to uphold both the state and federal constitutions.

The governor deserves to be taken at his word that his veto yesterday of the Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act - which would outlaw abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy - was his best understanding of how to fulfill that oath.

One of the low points of the George W. Bush presidency was when he signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act while saying he believed it was likely an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

If that were truly his belief, he violated his oath of office. Presidents promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Signing into law a measure one believes to be unconstitutional is in direct contravention of that promise.

It is not solely the courts’ job to protect our federal and state constitutions. The legislative and executive branches have that duty as well.

In our system, elected executives like the president and governors are required to administer and enforce laws they believe are misguided or even harmful. But they are required not to enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional.

Distinguishing between the two requires leaders with the restraint and humility to admit that not every law they find odious is automatically unconstitutional.

Gov. Tomblin appears to meet that test. His largely anti-abortion record shows that yesterday’s veto is not merely a matter of policy disagreement or political expediency.

Whether Tomblin is correct in his view of the bill’s constitutionality is a different matter. Many legal experts with more knowledge of constitutional law than the governor - including liberal ones - would say that the question is a close one that would likely come down to a 5-4 vote at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In deciding whether to override the governor’s veto, the Legislature will have another opportunity to express its own view on what abortion restrictions our state and federal constitutions allow.

The Legislature will likely disagree with the governor. Ultimately, the matter may be resolved in court. Regardless of the outcome, Tomblin deserves credit for the way he handled and explained Tuesday’s veto.




March 3

The Register-Herald, Bleckley, West Virginia, on smoking:

Two measures are winding their way through the Legislature, one of which would roll back restrictions on where smokers can light up, and the second which would substantially raise the per-pack tax on cigarettes.

The first bill would allow smoking in places where it is currently banned: veterans’ halls, casinos and other gaming spots, and private clubs.

While we are supportive of allowing private businesses the right to determine how they are run, we believe this would be a step back from hard-won laws protecting people from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Some are claiming - especially lawmakers with casinos in their districts - that this is an economic issue, insisting there are hordes of would-be gamblers who are sitting at home playing solitaire because they can’t gamble and smoke at a casino. So that makes it all about jobs.

That’s a dubious argument, we think.

What isn’t arguable is that the problems smoking causes are a public health issue in West Virginia.

Health problems of West Virginians have been well-documented, and passage of this measure is a surrender in the fight for healthier environments and healthier lives.

The second measure is something we’ve addressed before: raising taxes on a pack of cigarettes.

Sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and supported by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Karen Bowling, the bill would hike cigarette taxes here to more closely rival taxes in neighboring states.

The measure would raise West Virginia per-pack taxes from 55 cents a pack to $1.55.

That new rate would rival per-pack cigarette taxes in Ohio ($1.25), Pennsylvania ($1.60) and Maryland ($2).

Only the tobacco-producing states of Kentucky (60 cents) and Virginia (30 cents) would be lower.

Kessler says the increase will generate between $90 million and $137 million a year in additional revenue to the state, a significant amount of funding for a state where budget deficits have forced West Virginia to go to its Rainy Day fund.

And, Bowling says, such a measure would reduce the state’s high rate of smoking and tobacco usage.

That would be significant for a state which ranks 12th in per-capita health spending, but ranks 48th in overall health outcomes.

We can, and must, do better.

Reducing rates of tobacco usage by taxing cigarettes at a higher level is a good place to start.




March 3

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on smoking restrictions:

West Virginia has one of the most unhealthy populations in the United States, and the state’s relatively high smoking rate plays no small role in that.

About 4,000 West Virginians typically die each year from diseases related to tobacco, and smoking contributes a host of other health problems that affect tens of thousands of others - both smokers and non-smokers, and even children and newborns.

So easing restrictions on smoking in public buildings around the state does not make much sense from a health standpoint. But the proponents of the bill that passed the state Senate last week are framing the changes as more of a pro-business and personal freedom action.

The bill would exempt veterans’ organizations from indoor smoking bans - which have been passed on the county level - and allow race tracks, casinos, “adult-only” facilities such as bars and fraternal orders to apply for an exemption.

At least some of the support for the exemptions is coming from the gaming community, including the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort located in Hancock County, which is facing a county ban on indoor smoking in all public places that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

A number of studies have found that smoking bans do not hurt business at gambling facilities and bars, and there has been no evidence that Cabell County’s 2004 ban has hurt business. But some in the hospitality industry still worry that it might.

Meanwhile, casinos across the country operate under a wide range of restrictions from 100 percent smoke-free buildings to operations with smoke-free areas to riverboat casinos with no restrictions.

However, there are bigger “business” issues here. The annual health care costs related to smoking in West Virginia top $1 billion. The state also loses another $1.2 billion in productivity because of smoking, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. High smoking rates and the resulting poor health impair our workforce and make it less attractive for business investment.

Viewing public smoking policy only from its impact on gambling and alcohol sales seems more than a little shortsighted.

This bill would be a step backward for West Virginia on a key health issue and do little for economic development.



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