The final week of the 2018 Session of the West Virginia Legislature is now complete. As a citizen-based part time legislature, we only meet 60 days a year in regular session. Unless a special session is called by the Governor, any bill that didn't pass is now dead for the year.
By Del. Gary Howell
The final week of the 2018 Session of the West Virginia Legislature is now complete. As a citizen-based part time legislature, we only meet 60 days a year in regular session. Unless a special session is called by the Governor, any bill that didn’t pass is now dead for the year.
I want to hit the highlights of bills that passed in the final week of the legislature - some very important and some you may have wondered why it wasn’t already law.
SB 412 was one of those that would make you scratch your head as to why it wasn’t already law. It allows liter control officers to stop and issue a ticket if they observe someone littering. While authorized by state code to investigate illegal dumps and search for the culprit, they had no authority to stop someone they were following down the highway if they watch them throw a fast food bag out the window onto the road. This bill corrects that.
SB 574 will make it a crime for misrepresentation of military honors, stolen valor. If someone pretends to be an honored veteran in order to get special treatment, they will now be breaking the law. This bill was requested by many veterans groups.
SB 463 sets up a group to examine benefits and need of transferring milk rules and regulations from DHHR to Agriculture. Currently the DHHR inspects grade A milk, but grade B milk, which includes cheeses, is inspected by the Department of Agriculture. The group is charged with looking to see if combining these inspections of similar products under Agriculture makes sense and will save money.
SB 585 will cause Doddridge County to get a little smaller and Harrison County to get a little bigger. A state correctional facility straddles the county line and should something happen in the facility it is not always clear which county has jurisdiction, so the 14 acres of the facility that lie in Doddridge County will be become part of Harrison, so that the entire facility lies in one county.
A bill that I was honored to defend on the floor was SB 313. SB 313 will waive first time occupational fees and licensing requirements for certain low-income individuals, military families, and young workers. It is lowering the barrier to entry for creating your own job. Returning military members and their immediate family will be able to request a waiver of initial licensing fees when they apply for an occupational license as they return to civilian life. This will also be available for low income persons wishing to move up in life and for those just completing their education burdened with debt. Florida and Arizona have both implemented this law to great effect as they saw a rise in first time licensees.
The biggest impact will be in border areas. In our area, new professionals will gain an advantage, such as by locating in the Ridgeley, Keyser or Piedmont areas, where start-up cost will be lower compared to Cumberland, McCoole or Westernport in Maryland where fees and taxes will be much higher.
SB 612 is a small bill, but will have an impact on the sale of excess property for municipalities. Under currently law the counties and state may sell surplus on an online auction site, but cities were barred from that. This bill will give cities the same opportunity to sell through online auction sites.
I was disappointed in my Democrat colleagues on the budget. We had the opportunity to pass the budget on Thursday night as it has been completed. This is the budget that contains the 5 percent across the board pay raises for state employees. The House completed our version of the budget earlier than the Senate. The Senate’s was identical.
As a result of the House completing ours earlier, every Democrat or Republican had an opportunity to offer amendments, so when the identical Senate budget came to us on Thursday there was no work to do on it. A bill must be read on three separate days by the rules, but we can vote on a rules suspension to speed up the process. That vote takes four-fifths of the members, or 80 members, to vote yes.
Our Democrat colleagues would not vote to speed up the process, adding two extra days on getting the budget to the Governor. The Governor has now added an extra day to the end of session at a cost of $35,000 to the taxpayers for us to complete the process.
The House Committee on Government Organization ran out our last bills early on Monday, but we had a Wednesday meeting to pass our study resolutions. These resolutions will provide the basis of our interim meetings and what we will look at to improve the state. The main theme of our studies will be improving the state’s licensing and regulations. We are going to study how other states regulate industries and occupations to make sure we are properly protecting the public, while not overburdening citizens and driving jobs out of the state. This is all with the goal of making it easier to create jobs in the state.
The Roads and Transportation Committee met for the final time this session as well on Monday. One important resolution passed out requesting the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia look at extending Interstate 99 from Bedford, Pennsylvania, to Covington, Virginia. This would provide a huge economic boost to the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia and rural areas of the other states.
Saturday the 10th was the final night of session and I will provide a separate report on that.
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.