CHARLESTON -- New House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, spoke to a meeting of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 30. Here are his prepared remarks:
I'd like to thank you for inviting me to be with you this morning.
I'd like to begin by congratulating the State Chamber of Commerce for the active role you play in trying to make West Virginia a better place, not only to do business, but to live and work and raise a family.
Regardless of what side of an issue you're on, everyone in the Legislature knows that few organizations are as prepared, dedicated or focused as the Chamber of Commerce.
I'd also like to congratulate you for having Brenda Nichols Harper as your lobbyist. Brenda works extremely hard for you at the Capitol, and you should be justifiably proud of the job she does.
As the new Speaker of the House, a lot of people have asked me "what is my agenda going to be?" My desire to be Speaker was really driven by a very simple notion, namely that the work of the House of Delegates should be more open, inclusive and encouraging of debate. I strongly believe that in order for our state government to be truly representative of the will of the people, every member of the Legislature should have a greater ability to participate and contribute to the legislative process. In short, that the agenda of the House of Delegates should be driven from the bottom up rather than the top down.
The Legislature produces a product. And any product benefits from thorough analysis, sincere criticism and open debate. I view my job as Speaker as first and foremost being responsible for creating the kind of climate that allows for that kind of process to take place. The House of Delegates, after all, does not belong to one person, or one party or one leadership team -– it belongs to the entire people of West Virginia as reflected through the active an on-going participation of all its members.
In order to facilitate creating the kind of atmosphere that promotes debate, we've abolished the consent calendar so that members know what bills are coming up and have more time to analyze and review them. I think that's one move that I've made since becoming Speaker that has received enthusiastic bi-partisan support.
I don't need to tell you that we in the Legislature walk a balancing act between what we'd like to do and what we can afford to do. While revenues have exceeded expectations over the past couple of years, those numbers are expected to tighten up. As they do, we'll be faced with a lot of tough decisions.
As you know, we're dealing with a number of important issues in the Legislature that have far reaching implications for our state and I'll try to touch on a number of those in which you might have an interest.
The Governor has shown great vision in targeting high technology jobs. Those are the jobs of the future, and I believe that by attracting such jobs we'll be giving the next generation the opportunity they need to succeed.
I'd also like to applaud the Governor for moving to reduce taxes on businesses to bring us more into line with other states. As he's fond of saying, "It's the only way we can be competitive."
The Governor should also be commended for his efforts to finally fix the workers' compensation problem in this state, and for paying down our debt and underfunded liabilities.
Other issues, as I'm sure you've heard, that we're likely to be dealing with our the teacher's pay raise, a pay raise for state employees and the table games bill.
Let me be clear to all of you hear today. Just because I'm a trial lawyer please don't think I'm not concerned about frivolous lawsuits. One frivolous lawsuit is one too many. They not only hurt businesses and individuals, but they hurt the judicial system and the reputation of the legal profession as well.
I'm open to work with you to do anything we can do to limit such lawsuits and to make our system better. But let's do so in a responsible way that doesn't shut the courthouse door on innocent victims seeking justice.
Toward that end, I'd like to see us pass a venue bill this legislative session that limits the ability of out-of-state plaintiffs to utilize our court system. If an accident or problem happened in another state, and there's not a compelling reason why it should be tried here, let that other state pick up the tab for adjudicating that issue.
I think we can reach consensus on such legislation that will produce a bill that will pass constitutional muster. But to do that we have to be willing to work together and seek common ground.
I think there's too much of an "us and them" mentality in West Virginia today. Too often, you see the other side as the enemy and the other side sees you as the enemy, and that doesn't get us anywhere.
This is our home, this is where we choose to live and work and raise our families.
My challenge to you is to be willing to sit down with the other side and sincerely work for positive change. And incidentally, that's my challenge to the other side as well.
If both sides will check their rhetoric and their egos at the door, there's literally no limit on what we can accomplish.
Your President, Steve Roberts, has set a powerful example of that by his willingness to meet and with AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue on so many issues. I think both Steve and Kenny should be commended for being big enough to put their differences aside and work with each other.
There are many challenges that we face but I know that the Governor, the Senate President and myself all are committed to working together to move the state forward.
We have a remarkable opportunity to accomplish great things if we follow the example of Steve Roberts and Kenny Perdue.
Thank you again for your kind invitation to be with you today and thank you again for all the work you do to make our state a better place.