The West Virginia Legislature has completed the work of the regular session of 2019. It was, at times, a trying session but it was very productive. The most productive in recent memory, with 294 bills being passed. That is more bills passed than any legislative session in recent memory.

By Del. Gary Howell
The West Virginia Legislature has completed the work of the regular session of 2019. It was, at times, a trying session but it was very productive. The most productive in recent memory, with 294 bills being passed. That is more bills passed than any legislative session in recent memory.
Many of these bills repealed old laws making it easier to create jobs in West Virginia, but here are some of the highlights of the session.
There was a big push for tax reform. For years, even when in the minority the Republican Party has pushed for the elimination of the personal income tax on Social Security income. With the turnaround in the state’s economy over the past two years it allowed for the passage of HB 2001. That elimination will now be accomplished with a three-year phase out.
West Virginia’s taxes on coal has been the highest in the nation, hurting our state in the national coal market. HB 3142 will reduce the severance tax on steam or thermal coal from 5 to 3 percent in the coming years, making West Virginia coal more competitive with other states.
HB 3144 will create a new tax credit program for investing in new mining equipment. The North Central Appalachian Coal Severance Tax Rebate Act will create jobs and encourage new investment in the state’s coal industry.
All state workers will receive a 5 percent pay raise. That was placed in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, HB 2020. Potomac State College will receive $4,512,711 for next year’s operations. That is an increase from $3,834,937 in last year’s budget.
We are also diverting more funds to secondary and tertiary road repairs, SB 522 contains the Country Roads Accountability and Transparency Act to increase accountability for secondary road repair spending and allows up to $80 million to be diverted to secondary road repairs.
We put in many steps to help grow West Virginia’s workforce, which in turn will make it easier to attract business to the state. SB 1 creates a grant program to cover the “last dollar in” of tuition at one of the state’s community and technical colleges or an associate’s degree in skilled professions at a public four-year or two-year college, increasing workforce training and meeting critical unfilled labor force needs. The budget bill also included $12.8 million in additional funding for four-year colleges and universities, and roughly $5 million more for community and technical colleges.  
Improve the Second Chance for Employment Act, know as SB 152, creates new procedures and eligibility requirements for expungement of criminal records of nonviolent crimes, helping people return to the workforce.
HB 2209, a bill which I was lead sponsor on, will allow military veterans who meet certain qualifications to qualify for examination for license as an emergency medical technician.  
There was also a big push for increasing agriculture production in the state. I worked on several bills. Prior to World War II, West Virginia was the leading producer of industrial hemp in the nation. Industrial hemp is the non-intoxicating form of the marijuana plant which can be used to make clothes, paper and a variety of other items from its strong fibers. In an effort to return the state to agricultural prominence I worked with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) to write and sponsor HB 2694. HB 2694 allows the WVDA to take full advantage of laws recently passed by the US Congress regarding industrial hemp production.   
I also introduced HB 2359 which creates a restricted commercial drivers license for the farming community, to make is easier for those growing our food and other crops to move supplies and products during the growing season.
Of local interest, HB 2490 passed the Legislature. It will allow upgrades to be made to the Keyser swimming pool of up to $25,000. Once the city makes upgrades, operating costs should drop significantly providing for years of enjoyment to come.  Interestingly, as this bill worked its way through the process, it became apparent Keyser was not the only municipal pool with this issue.  In fact, this bill will allow not only cities across the state to make much needed upgrades, but also county pools and our state parks.  
The Governor has already called a special session on education reform. Prior to that session starting, a series of state meetings will be held to hear from the public. The one closest to our area will be Wednesday, April 3, at Berkeley Springs High School, Berkeley Springs. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. and run until 8 p.m.  If you can attend, please do. If not please feel free to contact me with your thoughts.
If you have a question, a suggestion on making West Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family 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.