West Virginia’s 2013 legislative session ended in early April after a whirlwind of activity. The WV advocacy team has been working to support AHA’s obesity policy priorities. Senate Bill 158—the Complete Streets Act—passed during the session, setting an expectation that future development will be based on accommodating all modes of transportation, including walking and bicycling. Part of the bill establishes an advisory board, and Chuck Hamsher, Government Relations Director, was successful in ensuring that there is one seat on the board for “an organization interested in the promotion of walking or health.” While the bill does not include an appropriation, passage of this bill is definitely a step forward for the built environment and active transportation in the Mountaineer State.
A great deal of the Legislative Session was spent working on the state’s budget. The budget that was being considered this session had proposed cutting tobacco prevention and education programs below their current funding level, which is already insufficient. This would take funding of these essential programs to less than 19% of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended levels to adequately fund tobacco prevention efforts in our state. Tobacco use takes a huge toll on the people of West Virginia. About 19% of all deaths (or nearly 1 in 5) of WV adults age 35 and older are caused by tobacco use. The state spends over $900 million a year on the direct health care costs of smoking. Although West Virginia’s tobacco control program has seen some success, including reductions in youth tobacco use, West Virginia still has some of the highest rates in the nation. What's more, we have the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy in the country, at 29.3%. Both the House and Senate versions of the budget cut tobacco prevention and education, as requested by the Governor, by over $600,000.
As many of you will remember, legislation requiring a newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease for newborns was passed during the last general assembly. This year was spent working with the Department of Health and Human Resources to get regulations in place that will establish the protocols and guidelines for the screening. This effort has been successful and we can all rest easier knowing that all of West Virginia’s newborns are being screened for congenital heart disease before being discharged from the hospital or birthing center.
A big thank you to all of our You’re the Cure West Virginia advocates!