W.Va. lawmakers to consider jobs impact proposal

W.Va. lawmakers asked to consider allowing jobs impact statements to accompany legislation

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Lawmakers would get a sense of how a bill might help or harm West Virginia's economy before casting a vote, under a measure proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin this session.

The Democratic governor's call for a jobs impact statement, to accompany legislation upon request, closely mirrors proposals sought for more than a decade by lawmakers of both parties. With identical versions introduced in the House and Senate on Friday, Tomblin's bill boosts the issue's profile and chances for success.

"We're excited that the governor agrees with us that we need this type of information," said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, who with fellow Republicans has championed a jobs impact statement. "We hope his added support to it will make sure it passes."

But environmentalists have raised concerns about similar proposals during prior sessions, arguing they aim to deter anti-pollution efforts.

"We would certainly oppose it as written," said Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council. "Its sole purpose is to delay or defeat regulatory legislation."

State agencies already routinely provide fiscal notes, or estimates of how legislation would affect government spending and revenues. Tomblin's bill would assign the state Development Office to compile a jobs impact statement upon request by a governor, House speaker of Senate president.

The governor wants the statements to detail both short- and long-term effects on jobs; estimate the number of jobs created, kept or lost; and study the net effect on employment levels and patterns. The office, which oversees the state's economic development efforts, would have to note any relevant information it omits from a statement and explain why.

The Development Office would have 20 days to provide a requested statement, which would then be shared with all legislators and the public. The office could enlist other state agencies or outside organizations to aids its research.

Sen. Evan Jenkins has pursued jobs impact legislation since he was in the House of Delegates in the 1990s. The Cabell County Democrat said he was inspired in part by highly sophisticated job modeling software used by economists at West Virginia and Marshall universities.

"We are right now, in effect, flying blind," Jenkins said Monday. "We've had lots of speculation, and it's easy rhetoric to predict jobs. It's frustrating to me when we've got credible research tools that can be brought to the process and put to work for good jobs analysis."

While in recent years such proposals have tended to idle in committees during sessions, a 2001 version passed the Senate and two House committees but then floundered on that session's final night. Jenkins has already introduced his own bill this session, which began Feb. 13, while Armstead said the House GOP version is slated for introduction soon.

"We stand on the floor every session talking about what's good for jobs or bad for jobs. We campaign every election year that we will fight for jobs," Jenkins said. "What this bill's said is, let's get serious about it."

Garvin believes such measures are modeled on a proposal crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a policy advocacy group backed by such corporate interests as coal companies.

"I'd have no trouble with this bill if they'd also include an environmental impact statement and a human health impact statement," Garvin said Monday.

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Follow Lawrence Messina at http://twitter.com/lmessina

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