We have now completed the second full week of the West Virginia Legislature.
By Del. Gary Howell
We have now completed the second full week of the West Virginia Legislature.
This week I had a bittersweet event happen. I serve as the chairman of the House Committee on Government Organization and have for the past three years. During that time Delegate Lynn Arvon, of Raleigh County, has served as my vice chair. With the resignation of Senator Jeff Mullens, Delegate Arvon was appointed to the state Senate as his replacement. Delegate Arvon, now Senator Arvon, was a valuable member of the House Government Organization team and her loss is bittersweet.
We are all happy for her promotion to the Senate, as they are gaining a valuable new member, but are sorry to see her go.
Delegate Danny Hamrick of Harrison County has been named the new vice chair of the committee, and he will make a good addition to the team.
As more bills are moving now, I will not be able to give you details on everything, but I will hit the highlights of the week. On Monday, Committee Substitute for HB 4002 passed the House. This will require the state to elect the 100 members of the House from 100 single member districts after the United States Census in 2020. While in our area each district is a single member, in other areas of the state they are not single member districts. This gives citizens in multimember districts more representation in Charleston. This bill corrects that imbalance and will make citizens of the state equal in representation in the Legislature.
HB 2028 is another important bill that passed, and it will allow those who wish to take legal action against the state to bring that action in their local court. This will eliminate the need in many cases of citizens having to travel to Charleston for court hearings and it does provide for teleconferencing to reduce costs.
Two veteran’s bills that I am lead sponsor on passed - HB 2822 and HB 2838. Both bills allow honorably discharged veterans to use their military occupational specialty experience to test for licensure in their equivalent civilian field. This is a way to give back to veterans who have defended our nation by making it easier to transition back to civilian life.
Ideas for changes in the state code come from many sources; sometimes they come from a state agency, sometimes a citizens group, or just listening to the people of the district when I am out and about.
One item that a lot of people are complaining about was getting phone calls showing a local number on the caller ID, which you may believe was a friend or neighbor, only to discover it was a telemarketer from some other part of the country. As a result of these conversations, I introduced HB 4150, which will update the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act to ban the practice of falsifying caller ID information. A violation of this act would give the affected consumer a cause of action and allow them to recover damages and a civil penalty ranging from $100 to $3,000 for each violation. The bill passed the House 94 to 2 and now goes to the Senate.
On Friday we passed the SB 263 which will eliminate the film tax credit from state code. This bill had good intentions of attracting major motion picture production to the state. Enacted in 2007, it only attracted the production of one major motion picture, “Super 8.” The state allowed up to $5 million in tax credits annually to be used for this purpose. The Performance Evaluation and Research Division found for that $5 million, we were only getting $800,000 in economic activity on average. The math simply didn’t work.
In an effort to see if the program could be modified to save it, I had numerous meetings with the Governor’s staff, and Chelsea Ruby, the Commissioner of Tourism, who also heads up the state Film Office. After examining states that were successful with a film tax credit program, we discovered that they had a film infrastructure providing lighting, sound systems and other production elements in state. Our proximity to Pittsburgh, northern Virginia and other areas near the border meant that out-of-state companies were providing these services. With 90 percent of the business going to out-of-state companies, there was just no way to make the program work and we were wasting tax dollars. This bill passed the House and now goes to the Governor for signature.
During the meetings of House Government Organization, we have passed out 28 bills, 19 of which authorize Legislative Rules for various departments and boards. Several Legislative Rules included fee increases which the committee voted to reduce. The one notable exception was HB 2831, which reconstitutes the Driver’s Licensing Advisory Board. The board is made up of medical experts and this will correct language to reflect the modern terminology among the medical profession. This bill now moves to the House floor for a vote of the full House.
The Committee on Roads and Transportation also met and heard two bills. HB 2612, repealing section relating to unattended motor vehicles, which will legalize remote starting your car to warm it up, and HB 2694, which will develop and implement a program to facilitate commercial sponsorship of rest areas. Other states have used this kind of policy to generate additional revenue to help with the maintenance cost of operating rest areas.
On Friday, during the floor session in the House, my cell phone lit up; it was on silent. It was a call from County Commissioner Jerry Whisner. Unable to answer, I texted him. He informed me that Potomac Valley Hospital had been without phone service for over 12 hours and requested my help. I left the floor to the chamber vestibule, where we are allowed to make phone calls. I then contacted Jimmy Gianato, the head of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS). I was surprised to find that he had not already been informed of this situation, but he said he would immediately get on it.
I then sent a text to WVU President E. Gordon Gee, informing him about the issue, since Potomac Valley Hospital is part of the WVU Health Care System, and he immediately began making calls. I also contacted John O’Neal at the Governor’s Office, and he began making calls as well. Lumos Networks and Frontier Communications provide the service. After both were contacted by WVU President E. Gordon Gee and the Governor’s Office, both companies made resolving the issue their number one priority.
Both the Governor’s Office and WVU Legislative Liaison came to the House Chamber doors, so I could work with them and do my duties on the House floor simultaneously. I kept the people on the scene in Keyser informed of the efforts in Charleston through Commissioner Whisner. After everything was in place to solve the problem, I contacted Mark Boucot the Potomac Valley Hospital CEO, and informed him of the efforts underway, and told him if anything else was needed, including sending state resources, making calls or opening doors, to contact me immediately. The problem was found and corrected a little after 4 p.m., ending the emergency.
No one acts alone and this was a team effort and I want to thank John O’Neal from the Governor’s Office, WVU President E. Gordon Gee, WVU Liaison Travis Molohan, West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato, and County Commissioner Jerry Whisner for working together and quickly putting the pieces in place to solve the problem.
As always if you have a question, a suggestion on how to improve our state government or need help with a state agency, then you can always call me at (304) 340-3192 or if you prefer e@mail me at Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov. Make sure you leave your full name, address and phone number so I can contact you if you leave a message.