- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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June 15

The Charleston Daily Mail on lawmakers compromising:

West Virginia, it seems, has avoided a government shutdown. A compromise budget bill is headed to the governor’s desk, and it’s expected to be signed before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

This is actually the second budget bill the Legislature has sent to the governor. A budget bill passed two weeks ago was vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin after lawmakers couldn’t agree on a tobacco tax increase and decided to heavily withdraw from the state’s savings account instead.

We must remember, however, that legislators had essentially agreed on a budget for Fiscal Year 2017 immediately after the regular session ended in March. Then the governor’s office dropped a bombshell by announcing revised revenue projections of $92 million less than previously expected.

But without a budget, jobs, health insurance and programs vital to many West Virginians were on the line. As House Minority Leader Tim Miley put it, “We’re at the 11th-and-a-half hour, trying to get a budget passed.”

Legislating, whether at the local, state or federal level, depends on compromise. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. In our own Legislature, 134 lawmakers represent various groups of voters in vastly different parts of the state. Each lawmaker has his or her own personal ideology to contend with as well. Balancing those competing interests is never easy, but it is necessary to proper governing.

Delegate John O’Neal is a good example of compromise. He joined with Democrats and anti-tax Republicans to vote against the 45-cent tobacco tax proposed in the first budget bill but reluctantly voted in favor of the 65-cent increase in the current bill.

“We’re unable to get the budget done without additional taxes because we have an unwilling partner in the Senate and an unwilling governor,” O’Neal, the House majority whip, said in a story by the Gazette-Mail’s Phil Kabler.

Because O’Neal and other legislators were willing to compromise, the state can avoid a government shutdown that could have had dramatic effects.

Pending the governor’s signature, the state has a budget for the 2017 fiscal year, and that’s a good thing. But lawmakers should continue working to ensure the delay is a one-time situation and not a yearly occurrence.

Eight months remain before the beginning of the next regular session. Legislators would be wise to use that time to find solutions to our state’s revenue and spending problems so the state can regain its financial footing and avoid the drama of the past few months.

Online:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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June 14

The Herald-Dispatch on the new chemical regulation law:

It’s really a shame that agreement by Republicans and Democrats in Congress on a piece of legislation is worthy of a special mention.

The divisiveness in the nation’s capital has made such occasions too few and far between.

But last week, bipartisanship actually reigned. More importantly, the bill that passed muster should go a long way toward making the American public safer, if government carries out the legislation’s mandate.

The U.S. Senate added its stamp of approval to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which is a badly needed update to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The legislation for the first time regulates tens of thousands toxic chemicals used in a multitude of everyday products ranging from household cleaners to clothing and furniture. The bill passed the U.S. House in May, and President Obama intends to sign it into law, the White House has said.

When enacted, the legislation will require the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new, risk-based safety standard that includes considerations for particularly vulnerable people such as children and pregnant women. It also contains deadlines for the EPA to act and makes it more difficult for industry to claim chemical information is proprietary and therefore secret. The bill also sets new standards for asbestos and other dangerous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, styrene and Bisphenol A, more widely known as BPA.

It may come as a surprise, but the EPA currently has little authority to evaluate the safety of chemicals and only a fraction of the chemicals used in a variety of products have been reviewed. This legislation should change that.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, both of West Virginia, were co-sponsors of the measure, and both had a reason specific to the Mountain State for backing a law that will provide a better handle on chemicals used in business and industry. That was the Freedom Industries chemical leak into the Elk River near Charleston in 2014 that tainted the water supply of about 300,000 people for several days. Little was known about the chemical - a coal-cleaning agent - that tainted the water. The Lautenberg Act includes a provision that prioritizes the review and regulation of chemicals near water sources.

One factor working in favor of the legislation was broad support from a variety of special interests, including the chemical industry itself, which said it was difficult to deal with widely different state regulations regarding chemicals. It preferred more uniform standards across the country, although states with their own chemical laws already in effect will be allowed to retain those. Public health groups and many environmental groups also backed it, although some environmental groups said it didn’t go far enough.

Overall, though, the legislation is a significant step forward in safeguarding the public and will bring many widely used chemicals under review for the first time. This was a good bill for attracting agreement among both Republicans and Democrats.

Online:

https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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June 15

Parkersburg News and Sentinel on pill pushers:

Pill pushers are not just shady guys on the streets - individual criminals. Sometimes, they are entire pharmaceutical corporations, as was the case with Delaware-based Salix, which is now forced to pay a $1.39 million settlement to the state of Ohio for its actions.

Salix was paying kickbacks to prescribers who recommended, promoted and prescribed its products. The company was caught by whistleblowers who noticed the false Medicaid claims and illegal kickbacks. In Salix’s case, the drugs in question were Xifaxan, Apriso, Relistor and others. Relistor, it is worth noting, is one of those medications touted as treating “opioid-induced constipation.”

If doctors were receiving kickbacks for prescribing a drug that treats the side-effects of opioids, it stands to reason those doctors might be prescribing a fairly high number of opioids as well.

Certainly Ohio and other Appalachian states have had far too many cases of doctors who prescribed medications more to their own benefit than the patients’. Even if Salix is settling claims based on prescriptions mainly for drugs that treat digestive system issues, the broader implications should be a concern to the attorney general’s office.

Too many addicts in our region know their dealers as “Doctor.” Those doctors are often getting marching orders from the drug companies that woo them. Catching Salix in the act, even if it was for a set of drugs only related to the opioid trade, is an important step. In fact, Salix will owe a total of $54 million to state and federal programs for its transgressions.

But lawmakers and attorneys general across the region should continue to shine a very bright light on other pharmaceutical companies and the drugs they funnel in grossly disproportionate numbers to our states. Their ads may tout these products as medicines, but they can be poisons; and encouraging their sale to patients who do not need them should be a crime.

Online:

https://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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