What a difference 55 days makes. On Jan. 8, the first day of the Legislative session, members of the State Senate and House of Delegates attending the Charleston Area Alliance's Issues and Eggs breakfast spoke with anticipation of the upcoming 60-day session.On that Wednesday, one day before a chemical spill by Freedom Industries contaminated the water supply for some 300,000 West Virginians, above-ground storage tank regulation and questions of the safety of much of West Virginia's water supply seemed to be far from any lawmaker's mind.How things change.Into the early morning hours of Monday, the House Judiciary Committee debated, amended and finally passed Senate 373, a bill that has dominated the discussion of legislators, the media and the public since the Jan. 9 leak.
Good for them for working through more than 40 amendments and forwarding the legislation on.Senate Bill 373 passed the Senate quickly, then was referred to the House committees on Health, Judiciary, and Finance. House Speaker Tim Miley assured the public that this triple reference was not meant to kill the bill.
Still, triple referencing slows the process down. The bill passed the Health Committee after a public hearing, finally passed Judiciary and now needs to get through Finance, then the full House.Assuming it passes there, it needs to go back to the Senate, where senators can either accept the House's revisions or appoint a committee to work through any differences. Then, the modified bill will have to be accepted by both chambers, then onto the governor's desk for signature.It's a lengthy and cumbersome process, but that's how democracy works.Despite all the hurdles pending, one thing is for sure. It would be unacceptable for legislators to leave Charleston without passing a reasonable bill that provides legitimate protection for water supplies around the state.The legislation must be strong, yet practical. It must be enforceable and affordable, both to those charged with enforcing it and those regulated by it.The final legislation must not subject responsible businesses to unnecessary regulation, but it shouldn't underregulate either. Just as overregulation is bad for business, underregulation of something as critical as the safety of our water supply is bad for business too, as many business owners in central West Virginia can confirm. The job of legislators will not be complete if they don't pass effective legislation to prevent a similar water crisis.