The Legislature has completed its May interim meetings and a special session called by the Governor. The special session was called at the same time as the interim meetings, that way there was no additional cost to the taxpayers.

By Del. Gary Howell
The Legislature has completed its May interim meetings and a special session called by the Governor. The special session was called at the same time as the interim meetings, that way there was no additional cost to the taxpayers.
    Eight bills were on the special session. The first bill was Reestablishing the Division of Culture and History as the Department of Arts, Culture and History. This bill followed the bill passed during the regular session that eliminated the Department of Education and the Arts. HB 101 shifted things around by taking Arts out of the Department of Education and put it in the Division of Culture and History and then elevating it to a cabinet level position.  
I got a request by our local libraries to vote no, because they believed the libraries would lose their independence. I voted no based on their information, however the bill did pass.  
The next bill was HB 102, West Virginia Fire, EMS, and Law-Enforcement Officer Survivor Benefit Act. This bill also followed from a regular session bill, and made the survivor benefit retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, providing a death benefit for fire fighters killed in line of duty while the bill was being worked the first time.  
    HB 103 fixed some typo graphical errors in the Fleet Bill, which is designed to get an accurate count on the state’s vehicle fleet. It also did one thing I was not happy with; it lessened the penalties for bureaucrats who purposely put incorrect vehicle information into various required reports. Considering recent reports of misuse of state vehicles, I believe this policy reversal was very poor timing, but to get the bill passed without a Governor veto, it was necessary for the greater good.  I plan to run a bill next year that puts stiffer penalties back into the law.
    The Senate sent several bills to the House, the first, SB 1004, updated the code requiring posters to be displayed reminding people to report human trafficking. You typically see these posters in rest stops, truck stops, bars, etc.  
SB 1005 made changes to the bill passed during the regular session, providing for an interstate licensing compact for physical therapists.  When the bill was passed during session the Senate made some changes to the original bill.  At the time they did not realize the original wording of the bill was required for WV to be part of the interstate compact. With the incorrect wording, the state could not participate, and SB 1005 corrected the wording.  SB 1006 change the time for securing deeds purchased at tax sales.  The time has been lengthened to give the rightful owner additional time to pay.  
Both Houses also passed supplemental appropriations bills. These are when one agency is running short of cash, but another agency didn’t use all of theirs, so we shift them around rather than dipping into the states rainy day fund or cutting services. It is likely we will pass a few more supplemental appropriations before next session.
During the Joint Committee on Government Organization we had a presentation from the Department of Environmental Protection, which gave the opportunity for Delegate Vernon Criss, who is a banker, to ask questions about accounts controlled by the state in the normal fashion.  These accounts contain millions of dollars, while it is unclear whether or not there is room for fraud, the use of outside accounts is still strange.  
Further investigation will be done. Most of the accounts are in local banks in Hardy and Pendleton counties, with one in an Ohio bank.  It did become clear the taxpayers are not getting the best return of investment by not having the money under the control of the State Board of Investments, which is one of the top investment boards in the nation.  
Another presentation was by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. Their presentation was one of the most thorough on their operations, which include divisions like the Regional Jail Authority and the WV National Guard. One very good thing that was noted the employee crisis has been averted in the Regional Jails, as many additional officers have been hired and more are on track to be hired soon.  
We had a presentation on the Regulatory Board Review of the Board of Social Work Examiners, typically these are reviews of how they are functioning and identifying problems that we may need to work on with legislation for the upcoming session. A letter report regarding funeral board licensee compliance with Tax Department reporting showed problems. This is not surprising being the board was supposed to have been eliminated, but the Governor vetoed the bill and never appointed anyone to the board. The staff can continue the daily operations, but the board should be eliminated at the earliest opportunity with its functions transferred to the Secretary of State and Attorney General.  The Attorney General already handles much of the work.
One of the most eye-opening items was the Post Audit Report on Commuting in State Vehicles. The Legislative Auditor office identified 495 individuals who use state-owned vehicles to commute to work. This was during the six months covered in the analysis.  
Now keep in mind, since the Fleet Bill doesn’t become law until July 1, and the first report will not happen until 2019, they are just beginning to collect and analyze data on vehicle use. Of those 495 individuals only 123 had kept separate records for commuting and work.
One state vehicle was used for official business less than 3 percent of the time; basically the state gave someone a car to drive for personal use and charged you the taxpayer. Oh, you probably paid for the gas too!
The Legislative Auditor also found that state agencies are not reporting the taxable fringe benefit for employees who use state vehicles for commuting properly, which could lead to tax implications for the person using the vehicle.  This is a mess that the Fleet Bill will help correct, but this is the deep part of the swamp, and I expect we will find more, and I will continue to go after the waste and corruption.
A performance update on the Lottery Commission was presented by Danielle Boyd, general counsel for the Lottery Commission. The presentation spent a lot of time on the new Sports Betting Law. The law reads, “The Legislature finds that in order to protect the residents of the state who wager on sports or other events and to capture revenues and create jobs generated from sports wagering, it is in the best interest of this state to authorize its citizens to regulate this activity by authorizing and establishing a secure, responsible, fair, and legal system of sports wagering immediately when the federal ban is lifted.”  
The federal ban was lifted earlier this month. In West Virginia there is already sports betting going on in the state, but it is illegal.  This will now move it out of the shadows.
Ms. Boyd indicated this law gives us the opportunity to be one of the first states to market sports betting in the region, which was a major factor with the initial success of racetrack video lottery and table games.  She also indicated West Virginia’s treasury benefited significantly by getting in the gambling business before most other states. Those states have caught up and now the Lottery wants to get a jump on the sports book.
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.