The legislature has now completed crossover week. The final House bills have passed to the Senate and vice versa. It was a very busy week with some long days. Here are a few of the highlights.

By Del. Gary Howell
The legislature has now completed crossover week. The final House bills have passed to the Senate and vice versa. It was a very busy week with some long days. Here are a few of the highlights.
    One important bill for our area that passed the House was HB 4019 the “Downstream Natural Gas Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit Act of 2020.” It allows for the use of tax credits using downstream products made from West Virginia Natural Gas.  Automated Packaging could take advantage of these credits as they use many of these downstream products. I have notified the company the bill is moving, so if they are looking to expand, they know expanding in Keyser will be an advantage.  
Another important bill is HB 4377 the “Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act” which will provide an added level of protection against financial scams mainly involving the elderly.
Many volunteer firefighters were interested in HB 4558, which creates a personal income tax credit for volunteer firefighters in West Virginia.  This is being done to help with retention and recruitment of volunteers.
There are still 13 counties that are dry counties, meaning you can’t sell packaged liquor in those counties. It has been that way since prohibition; those counties never voted to become ‘wet.” HB 4524 will make the entire state "wet,” permitting the sale of alcoholic liquors for off-premises consumption.  I voted no on this, because it should be a local decision. These counties can call for a vote at any time if they want to become wet, so why not allow local control?
The final House bill to pass was HB 4971, which I introduced to help save Fairmont General Hospital from closing. It will also help save future hospitals from closing. It allows for a fast way for a buyer to move in and keep the hospital open or even build a new one within six miles. We have found many times old buildings maintenance costs are one of the reasons they are closing and paperwork on getting permission to build a new one takes too much time. This bill will provide a good way to speed up that process. 
    On Thursday we began working on Senate bills, as that is all we can do, except for budget bills. One of interest was SB 727, titled “Relating to disbursement of funds for highway road repair.”  I voted no on this one because it will shortchange Mineral County.  The bill deals with the disposal of drill tailings. Drill tailings are the rock that comes up when a gas well or another well is drilled. These tailings are taken to a land fill for proper disposal and a fee of $1.50 per ton is applied that goes to fix our roads. Currently the fee goes to the Highway District in which the drill tailings were collected.  Mineral County is in District 5, so the money would go to District 5 and be spent in District 5.  The bill changes it so that the money will now go to the district where the landfill is, and the drill tailings are deposited in. Since the landfill is in Tucker County, that means the money will go to District 8. Money from Mineral County will be spent to fix roads in Tucker, Randolph, Pendleton or Pocahontas counties. I voted No.  
If you want to organize your neighborhood to clean up your street, then SB 225 will empower municipalities to enact Adopt-A-Street programs. These are like Adopt-A-Highway programs.  Another important bill was SB 6, it will allow the logging industry that has been hard hit by the closure of Verso to haul heavier loads with Pup Trailers. These trailers spread out the weight over more axles allowing heavier loads without increased wear and tear on highways and they increase the trucks braking power for safety.  
    The House Committee on Government Organization met for the final time of this session this week to finish the last of the Senate bills that had support to pass, then move on to the floor of the house if the passed committee. One important bill that took nearly all of session to work out was SB 163, labeled “Relating to municipal or county taxation of hotel rooms booked through marketplace facilitator.”  What that fancy title means is websites like Air B&B that book both hotel rooms, cabins, apartments and similar rental units, will collect the appropriate tax and remit it to the Tax Department for distribution, similar to how sales taxes are managed.   
The issue was that each of these rooms requires local hotel-motel taxes be paid, but it was unclear who was to pay it.  The three options were to have the local owner pay it, which is current law, have the marketplace facilitator pay it to 283 different taxing authorities across the state, or allow them to pay the state tax department and have them send it out like the sales tax collected across the state.  
The reason it took so long was all sides would agree (hotel owners, cabin owners, representatives of the marketplace facilitators, representatives of the Governor’s office and the lobbyist for the WV Hospitality Association) only to have the lobbyists change their mind.  This went on and on. Finally, we had to tell them we were sticking to the original agreement and all taxes would be sent to the state tax department and then distributed by them to the counties and cities of the state.   
Also, to promote tourism we took up SB 690 which will permit street-legal special purpose vehicles on highways for a short distance to travel between trailheads and motels for off-road trail riding. This will primarily help with the trials in southern West Virginia and expand to other areas as trails develop.  
SB 802 ran as well; it will allow large natural gas users to hook directly up to a gas field to gain a cheaper rate. This has large volume requirements and will be used by facilities like natural gas-powered power plants, glass plants, or gas crackers.  
The committee also took up study resolutions. These will guide what topics are researched and discussed at the interim meetings over the summer and fall.  Some of the topics we will be studying are licensure, certification and registration forms of occupational and professional regulation, studying duplicative and unnecessary professional and occupational regulations, studying state procurement policies to identify best practices, including exploring exceptions to the statewide contract and purchasing policies, studying  state logging regulations regarding trucking and related insurance requirements compared to other logging intensive states and studying the adoption and enforcement of the municipal building codes and property maintenance codes as to the appropriateness of requiring submission of such codes through the Legislative Rule-Making process prior to implementation and enforcement.
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.