Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D- Greenbrier, wrote the following open letter to Senate
President Craig Blair, R- Berkeley, prior to the special legislative session that Governor Jim Justice called
for earlier this week.
I hope this letter finds you well. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me this week
regarding potential issues to be addressed in this special session. On behalf of the minority caucus, I feel
it is important to highlight critical issues that have been omitted from consideration. Many of these issues
are time-sensitive and enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support during our regular session.
First, I remain greatly disappointed that the legislature failed to pass the foster care bill during the
regular session, nor address the numerous issues related to the foster care system. It is simply
unacceptable that we did not pass any legislation during the session to improve our foster care system,
and to repeat this error truly demonstrates our misplaced priorities.
I am sure you saw Hoppy Kercheval’s April 18 column, “Drug Addiction is West Virginia’s No. 1
Problem.” I could not agree with him more, but a closer review of the three incidents he references
reinforces the importance of improving our foster care system. Those three incidents related to: (1) child
neglect after a toddler overdosed on heroin, (2) a mother who overdosed with her infant by her side, and
(3) a troubled teenager convicted of the murder of her maternal grandparents, who adopted her and raised
her after years of living with drug-addicted parents. If we again fail to address the issues that substance
use disorder and addiction are causing in our state, we will be failing these children and more like them.
In addition to foster care, we saw the untimely end of the insulin cap bill the final night of regular
session, another measure that would provide immediate relief to a vulnerable population. We believe this
should be taken up as part of the special session, as it is widely popular and extremely beneficial to the 1
in 10 West Virginians living with diabetes. This bill had strong bipartisan support during session and will
provide both medical and financial reprieve to those who need prescriptive insulin to survive.
As you know, our caucus strongly believes that a temporary gas tax holiday will put immediate
relief in West Virginian’s pockets. I reiterate: this is a temporary measure, we can afford it, and
surrounding states have done the same. This policy would especially help border counties, working West
Virginians (who commute an average of 25 minutes to work), and retirees on fixed incomes.
We believe that redistributing certain taxes and surcharges to benefit volunteer fire departments, as
the Senate voted to do during the regular session, will grant immediate relief to our struggling VFDs and
allow them to continue funding operations. In turn, this ensures lower home insurance rates for our
constituents and continues West Virginia’s appeal of having a lower cost of living than our surrounding
Finally, we believe the legislature was remiss not to address county budget concerns during the
regular session. COVID took a large toll on our counties, and with our great revenue surplus, it seems the
time to offer relief is now. There are many ways to address this, including jail bill considerations (such as
reform that will help the process in the future) and funding school building and courthouse deferred
maintenance and improvements. These would lessen the load on our small and strained counties. We
would welcome a chance to pass legislation toward this end.
I urge you to look at the priorities we are setting as a legislative body and weigh whether or not
they are responsive to the needs of our people. Are people desperate for reduced CPS caseworker loads
and coordinated services for foster children or are they desperate to create a new reimbursable fund for a
government agency? Please consider the message we are sending to our constituency with which bills we
choose to take up.
I appreciate you working with our caucus to elevate good ideas, no matter where they come from.
I believe there are many in this letter, and I hope you agree. If so, please ask the Governor and Speaker
Hanshaw to consider addressing them in the upcoming session.
Thank you for your consideration.