CHARLESTON (AP) - Easing inmate crowding, tackling drug abuse and recovering from the recession are among the major tasks facing West Virginia's Legislature as it began its 2012 session Wednesday.
State spending issues also await the Senate and House of Delegates, which launched their 60-day calendar with brief floor sessions before recessing until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's evening State of the State address.
Joint interim study committees have spent the months since last year's session drafting bills for 2012. Those include a request for a 1,200-cell prison to address the state's inmate crowding crisis. With the state's prisons at capacity, the regional jail system has at least 1,500 more inmates than it was designed to handle.
A more wide-ranging draft proposal would rewrite sentencing laws and bolster rehabilitation efforts to steer low-risk, nonviolent offenders into community-based programs and save prison beds for dangerous felons.
Lawmakers have also focused on prescription pain pill and methamphetamine abuse. They're expected to consider improving a database system meant to track prescriptions while making it more difficult for would-be meth labs to obtain needed ingredients.
Democrats continue to enjoy majorities in both chambers. They occupy all but six seats in the 34-member Senate and hold 65 of 100 House seats. But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, also a Democrat, must fill two House vacancies for his party this session.
Tim Ennis has been appointed a Brooke County commissioner while Steve Kominar resigned to become executive director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority.
The House's minority Republicans announced a session agenda Tuesday that includes a job impacts statement for all proposed regulations, tax cuts linked to revenues from Marcellus shale natural gas drilling, and the creation of an intermediate appeals court.
Lawmakers must also craft a new state spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. The House and Senate Finance committee will begin that process today, when Tomblin administration officials brief them on the governor's proposed budget and state revenue forecasts. The budget, which totals $11.3 billion this year, typically takes a weeklong extended session to complete.