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Legislature convenes; committees named

by Malia Rulon

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON -- During the first official day of the 2001 legislative session, legislative leaders pinpointed two important issues they need to address: economic development and redistricting.

Although the session began Wednesday, lawmakers met for only a few hours then adjourned until Feb. 14, after Gov.-elect Bob Wise takes office and prepares a budget.

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, on Wednesday announced a Select Economic Development Committee to recommend legislation on economic issues.

The House of Delegates, meanwhile, passed a resolution to create a Select Committee on Redistricting.

House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, said the committee would be made up of 21 Democratic and seven Republican delegates from across the state. He planned to announce the committee members next week.

The committee will be told to use 2000 census figures to draw political boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts for the next decade.

Depending on when complete population figures are available, the committee may have to continue meeting after the regular session ends in April. The Legislature may need to hold a special session later in the year to act on the panel's recommendations.

Redistricting has to be completed before the 2002 primary.

Because of shifting populations, legislative leaders predict the Eastern Panhandle will pick up seats in both chambers. Southern counties are expected to lose seats.

Congressional districts could also become a point of contention. At least two Eastern Panhandle Democrats are lobbying for the 20-county 2nd District to be redrawn to remove Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, has said the counties feel under-represented since the district's power appears to reside in Charleston.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and GOP leaders say they will oppose any effort to remove the three counties, which Capito won in the general election.

As part of Wednesday's House and Senate sessions, Kiss and Tomblin were easily re-elected to their positions. They were the Democratic Party nominees and Democrats control both houses.

Tomblin used a brief acceptance speech to announce the creation of a Senate Select Committee on Economic Development.

The 13-member group will handle economic development proposals offered by Gov.-elect Bob Wise and will more closely monitor actions of the state's Development Office, Tomblin said.

"We've got real economic development in this state in only a handful of places, and our young people are leaving the state in droves. We've got to have jobs to keep them here," he said.

Tomblin said he has not discussed formation of the committee with either Wise or Kiss.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, will chair the committee.

"There is no committee to focus on this area.

"What we're trying to do is participate in economic development in a proactive way," said McCabe, a developer.

Also during Wednesday's half-day session, 23 new delegates and four new senators joined incumbent members in their respective chambers for swearing-in ceremonies.

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