The West Virginia Legislature has completed its September interim meetings. Interims are where we do more in-depth studies on subjects or work on investigations. All with the goal of making West Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

The West Virginia Legislature has completed its September interim meetings. Interims are where we do more in-depth studies on subjects or work on investigations. All with the goal of making West Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

 

I serve on the Post Audits committee which receives many in-depth reports on problems in the state agencies. The first report we received was dealing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Coal companies are required to purchase surety bonds, this is a bond that the state can use to clean up any environmental issues, should a coal company go under. One requirement is that the each company issuing surety bonds be qualified to sell US Treasury Bonds, this is a way to judge the financial stability of the company issuing the bonds, as only the most financially stable companies can sell US Treasury Bonds. DEP allowed First Surety Corporation to sell over $47 million in surety bonds, despite First Surety Corporation not meeting the requirements. They lacked the ability to sell US Treasury Bonds. A smaller company, Quanta Insurance Company, sold $10,000 worth without meeting the same requirements. $955.4 million in surety bonds were issued through properly qualified companies. DEP claimed they thought they were following the law, but it was clear they were not. Another report showed the West Virginia State Police had not finalized its purchasing procedures since being exempted from the regular state purchasing system. They are working to correct the issue quickly by producing a purchasing procedure manual. I plan on introducing legislation in 2020 that simply requires any exempt agency to follow the state’s purchasing division’s manual, until they have developed their own and have it on file for public review so that this does not occur in the future. We also received at Post Audit Report on the Coal Resource Transportation System which allows heavy loads on some state roads. I have requested to see if this could apply to the timber industry to allow for easier transport of product to the market place.

 

The Joint Committee on Government Organization, which I co-chair, met with a lengthy agenda and here are the highlights. This was the final meeting for co-chair Senator Greg Boso who resigned effective at midnight the day of the meeting. Greg will be missed in the legislature. We had two investigations into the Board of Physical Therapy. The first was dealing with its previous registration of athletic trainers. It is required to take complaints and investigate them. Since taking on that roll in 2011, only one complaint was logged, despite being required to take all complaints on registrants. This will require further investigation to see if the public was put at risk. The other report dealt with a procedure called “Dry Needling,” which some Physical Therapists use. This past session we passed a bill allowing several disciplines to use a procedure called Auricular Acudetox Therapy. This procedure uses needles to reduce cravings in those with addictions. The Senate amended out the Board of Physical Therapy and this created ambiguity as to whether or not a Physical Therapist could use needles at all. We are working to correct this problem created by the Senate’s removal of the Board of Physical Therapy from the bill and subsequently the law. We had a lengthy presentation on Real Estate Broker Price Opinions which is a lower cost alternative to using Real Estate Appraisers in certain instances, lowering costs to consumers. West Virginia is currently the only state where Real Estate Broker Price Opinions are not legal for hire. One that will make you be thankful you live in Mineral County was the Performance Review of the WV Division of Highways Maintenance Funding Allocation. Mineral County is one of the few counties that has exceeded or gets close to its core maintenance goals for maintaining its roads. Simply our roads are in better shape than most roads in the state. I want to say thank you to Mineral County DOH for being one of the best in the state.

 

I attended my first meeting of the Commission on Interstate Cooperation since my appointment. At the meeting Professor Vincent Cardi of the WVU School of Law gave a report on the activities of the Uniform Law Commission. The Uniform Law Commission is a national commission that recommends state laws that will be identical or similar in other states to help with commerce through ease of understanding laws in multiple states. For future meetings I requested that we look into public utilities that cross state lines and how to better protect West Virginia consumers.

 

This is especially poignant with Verso closing the Luke Mill Plant and giving an unrealistic deadline for Piedmont to disconnect from its raw water intake system. I have also been working with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, including traveling to the White House, to work to solve problems created by the closure of Luke Mill. The White House has promised to provide assistance on a Federal level and have been following through. Currently the White House has the US Army Corps of Engineers working to come up with a way to fix Piedmont’s raw water intake and fund a portion of the cost. They are also working at my request with the West Virginia Forestry Association to improve management of the National Forests in West Virginia to promote healthy forests and provide additional income to the timber industry adversely affected by Verso’s damage to our local economy. The President, through his staff, is doing what he can to help the people of our area and I am grateful for the assistance.

 

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.