We just completed a special session of the legislature, coupled with our interim meetings. The items many were concerned with were the various education bills, but there was also much other work done.

By Del. Gary Howell
We just completed a special session of the legislature, coupled with our interim meetings.  The items many were concerned with were the various education bills, but there was also much other work done.  
What was interesting was at the opening, a Democrat member of the House immediately moved to adjourn Sine Die. Sine Die is Latin for final day, meaning had the motion passed the special session would have been over, and all the bills would have died.  This would have included the bill providing funding for highways, a bill providing funding for Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities Waiver programs, and all the bills discussed here.
A very important bill to help with creating jobs in the state is HB 144, which I am a co-sponsor of and have been a strong advocate for. Known as the West Virginia Business Ready Sites Program, it provides for a way to identify and facilitate preparation of sites for industrial development.  
Unlike years past where an industrial park is built and sits empty for years, this program identifies a site and secures an option to buy. In addition, no infrastructure is built at taxpayer expense, but rather agreements are made with utilities to install service within a specific amount of time. Nothing is built until a company is ready to begin construction.  
This has been successful in several states. One big success using this method was Alabama attracting a Hyundai automobile manufacturing plant to Montgomery. If the Senate approves and the Governor signs this bill, it will be a tool to help with development in the state.  
I specifically requested that once this law passes, Mineral County be looked at first for one of these sites.  
Another pro jobs bill was HB 113, which establishes tax incentive opportunity zones for new business. This is a federal program we are participating in. Unfortunately, none were identified in Mineral County, but with the closure of the Luke Mill plant, I have requested to see if Mineral County could have an area or areas designated.
Secondary roads will also get an additional boost in funding with HB 155. This will use some of this year’s surplus to add $50,200,917 in new funding. DOH informed us that they may not get to use all of it before winter due to timing of releasing contracts.  
We also passed the Ron Yost Personal Assistance Services Act with HB 160. This will help people living with disabilities to stay in their homes.
    On education, we passed HB 174 which improves the school innovation zones program in the state. HB 192 passed, which removes some fees associated with teaching certificates, but HB 206 was the bill that most people contacted me about. The bill contains no ESAs, which was something several wrote to me about, and it does not require the creation of any charter schools, but it does allow county school boards of education to create a public charter school only if the county BOE wants one. Any county creating one will get additional federal monies for the charter school.
It takes zero money from public education. Again, if a county BOE creates a charter school, it adds additional money to their budget. Being about half of my constituents that contacted me didn’t want charter schools and the other half did want charter schools, I figured a local option was a reasonable compromise based on constituent input. This is also based on many saying Charleston makes too many decisions for local school systems; this was a great way to make it a local decision.  
The bill requires any reduction in force must take into consideration seniority and certification. The house bill does not contain anti-strike language. It includes $458,000 in new funding for counseling services in Mineral County. This was added to help deal with students facing issues at home, such as, but not limited to, drug use by parents.  This bill also adds an additional Mountaineer Challenge Academy and adds slots to the existing MCA. Additionally, this bill increases tax credits to teachers for purchasing school supplies by an additional $200, and it gives teachers and school service personal a 5 percent pay raise.
Not a perfect bill, but HB 192 met 90 percente or more of what my constituents requested. Perfect is the enemy of good. This is a pretty good bill. Because of this special session, a lot of help is coming to improve our education system.   
The Post Audits interim committee, that I am assigned to, also met. We heard a report on the West Virginia Jobs Act. The act was to promote employment of West Virginians in government construction projects. In order to meet federal requirements, the act defines the West Virginia job market as every county in West Virginia, and any county outside of West Virginia if any portion of that county is within 50 miles of the border of West Virginia.  As a result, West Virginia residents only comprise approximately 8 percent (804,000) of the 9,729,000 active labor force participants in the West Virginia local labor market.
Since fiscal year 2011, WorkForce WV has provided only 55 referrals to employers performing state-funded projects subject to the Jobs Act, and there is no record of any of the 55 actually being hired. The cost of the program is approximately $750,000 annually.  The reports recommendation is to end the program, but one Democrat member of the committee moved to not accept the report, implying the report could be used to as a way to eliminate the program.  
After wasting approximately $6 million in taxpayer money without being able to prove they got one West Virginian hired, I think it is time to end the program. I voted against his motion to bury the report.
As always, 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.