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Thompson says many issues await Legislature

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In the 2012 legislative session, more than 2,000 bills were introduced and just 214 of those completed legislation.

When the Legislature meets in a few days for the 2013 session, Speaker of the House Rick Thompson said he anticipates lawmakers will tackle a slew of issues, from education reform to justice reinvestment to the economy and job creation. In addition, interim committees and individual members will submit bills for consideration. Legislation from committee reports often come to the forefront, Thompson said.

"We'll be getting those reports when we meet in our February interims," he said. "The governor's agenda when he gives the State of the State Feb. 13 will outline his agenda. It's always a priority for the Legislature."

Thompson named just a few of the issues he thinks will be big this session. Education seems to be on everyone's mind thanks to the education efficiency audit released last year. The audit made some suggestions to help streamline the state's education system and downsize the West Virginia Department of Education to help it run more efficiently. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has not made any specific requests related to the audit, and the Legislature is still waiting to hear from the Board of Education.

"A lot of those things do not require legislative action, but some may require legislative action," Thompson said of audit recommendations.

Tomblin recently released a report last month on justice reinvestment. Prison overcrowding and the associated costs has been on lawmakers' radars for a while now, and the report laid out suggestions on how best to tackle the state's prison system.

"Most of us want to be tough on crime," Thompson said of lawmakers. But, he said, it will be tough to "walk the fine line" between getting help for offenders who don't belong in prison and keeping the public safe.

"That's going to be a tough issue to walk that fine balance between those two issues, to ease overcrowding in our prisons and reduce costs to our counties," Thompson said. "But at the same time, we want to keep our public safe and put people in jail if they need to be in jail."

Thompson said the Legislature will look at the financial aspect of justice reinvestment and how to increase supervision to those on probation.

"We're going to continue looking for things like that," he said.

In addition to the issues, Thompson also will be dealing with some new faces this session. Of the 100 delegates, 46 are Republican, the highest number in decades. Although they may differ politically, Thompson said he expects all delegates to work together for the good of West Virginia.

"When you run for office, its partisan. When you get up here and serve the people its nonpartisan," he said.

Thompson said he works closely with House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, about the committee structure and ideas the Republican Caucus is presenting.