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Steve Novotney Says, "Caring for Vets Not a Partisan Issue"

It's House Bill 2625.

A BILL to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new article, designated §5B-2I-1, §5B-2I-2, §5B-2I-3 and §5B-2I-4, all relating to creating the "Returning Veterans and Displaced Miners Jobs Act"; providing a short title and legislative findings and declaration; establishing a Veterans Job Coordinating Team and composition of the team; powers and duties, including reporting a plan to the Legislature; and providing for termination of the Veterans Job Coordinating Team unless the Legislature determines otherwise.

The lead sponsor is Del. Scott Brewer from 13th District in Mason County. Brewer is the minority chair of the House's Industry and Labor Committee and also a member of the committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources and Government Organization.

But, uh oh, he's a Democrat. That means it likely will not reach a House vote let alone any serious discussion. Shoot! Speaker Tim Armstead, a Bible-thumping Republican from Kanawha County, probably won't even read it although one co-sponsor of the bill is Republican Del. Pat McGeehan from Hancock County.

Oh, wait! That's right! Del. McGeehan was booted out of the GOP Caucus last regular session by the Speaker because McGeehan dared to follow his own brain instead of the marching orders barked out by Armstead and other conservative leaders.

What this all translates down to is this: Even veterans will be penalized if it's a Democrat leading the charge to assist them with finding employment following their duty to our country. The American military has been in flux for several years, and far too often our veterans are discharged despite their personal intentions because of budget cuts and draw-downs in active-service soldiers in most branches, especially the Army and the Marine Corps.

Those veterans then return home, but most do not have a family foundation to return to when they arrive. Many of them are not in the position to take advantage of the G.I. Bill either because they have bills to pay and must find employment instead of continuing their education.

And yes, there is a population of homeless veterans in our country, and that's downright shameful. I've often ranted during the radio show about how the federal government has failed these men and women, and I'm sad to see lawmakers in West Virginia allowing party agendas and partisan politics to barricade a proposed bill like HB 2625.

See, the legislation should make sense to members of all political parties in the Mountain State.

The Legislature finds that our United States Military has increasingly focused on promoting skilled apprenticeships to help veterans transitioning to the civilian world, and now provides over twenty percent of the registered apprenticeships in the country. The teambuilding, problem solving and project management skills honed on the battlefield translate well to occupations in the construction industry. Nationally veterans account for five and eight-tenths percent of the overall workforce but comprise six and nine-tenths percent of all blue-collar construction workers. Programs such as Helmets to Hardhats and the military's new emphasis on the United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) have made construction employment more and more attractive to military veterans. They are about four times more likely to be enrolled in a registered apprenticeship program than civilian workers.

Oh, wait, apprenticeships? The construction industry?

Well, there's another reason why many of today's Republican members in the Legislature will ignore the bill; it's connected to organized labor in West Virginia.

Labor organizations have been attacked since the GOP took over the majorities in both chambers two years ago with a Right to Work law and the repeal of prevailing wage concerning public projects although construction executives clearly stated there was no need for either action. The efforts[WH1] moved forward anyway because they was prominent on the national conservative agenda distributed nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC, according to its website, is "America's largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism."

Unfortunately for West Virginians, the agenda items and connected talking points fed by ALEC do not reflect a proper blueprint for what this state needs during the current regular session. The budget hole is at least $500 million, few bills have been introduced that address creating new revenue streams, and it's reached the point now where I have to wonder if leadership in the House and Senate know what job creation is.

But guess what?

We did this to ourselves.

While voters in the Third House District paid attention to the issues and, on Election Day, returned two delegates that truly serve their constituents, I fear many of the state's residents did not. Granted, I live in one of the state's 67 House districts and in one of 17 Senatorial Districts, and it's true that Ohio County is surrounded by the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, so perhaps my mindset toward state government differs from that of others elsewhere.

And I recognize there are different issues in our state depending on which region a resident lives in; folks in some counties once-upon-time-ago depended completely on the coal industry, but many mines have been shuttered in the past five years; drugs and the connected criminal activity are issues in all 55 counties; and population loss in all but two areas of the state has diminished the income-tax rolls.

But if we, the people of West Virginia, cannot push for legislation that assists veterans upon their return to their native state because of connections to labor and the Democratic Party, what are we paying these people for anyway?