The West Virginia Legislature has now completed its 2020 60-day regular session. Unless a special session is called, all bills not on the Governor's desk are now dead for the year.
By Del. Gary Howell
The West Virginia Legislature has now completed its 2020 60-day regular session. Unless a special session is called, all bills not on the Governor’s desk are now dead for the year.
It was a productive year, but with revenue down there were some things we couldn’t do. Here are the highlights of the final week. I will provide a list of bills, that may be of interest that completed legislative action and are now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
SB 6 was a Senate bill that designed to help the logging industry. It will allow logging trucks to use so-called “pup trailers;” this will allow them to haul heavier loads but spreads the load over more axles. This provides several benefits. First, it increases public safety by increasing the number of braking axles on each truck; second, it spreads the additional weight out over more axles, reducing wear and tear on our roads; and finally, it reduces the cost to loggers, allowing them to haul more logs per trip. This is very important to our area with our loggers needing to haul loads further because of the Verso closure.
Sometimes it takes a few years to get an idea through the legislature, mainly because the other house doesn’t understand the need for the bill. SB 649 was one of those bills. Last year I introduced a bill to have a separate back up to our 911 system that is totally cellular based. Due to several factors, 911 service over landlines has dropped in our area and in other parts of the state, but during that time most cellular services were still operating.
Over the interims I explained my idea to Sen. Mark Maynard and told him it had passed the House, but the Senate didn’t understand the need. This year Sen. Maynard introduced the bill and passed it out of the Senate first and it easily passed the House.
If the Governor signs the bill, then the state’s 911 centers will be able to have cellular numbers that would be 304-###-0911. This will give a complete independent backup system that does not deal with land lines at all.
Probably one of the most misunderstood bills was SB 583, which will allow the state’s electric companies to provide solar based electricity to is industrial customers. West Virginia is seeing a lot more companies looking to locate here because of the changes made over the past five or six years. Many of these companies have stockholders demanding so-called “Green Energy,” but we had no provision in the code to allow a customer to voluntarily pay a higher price for solar. This bill will allow the electric company to charge what that customer is willing to pay to get solar. Solar only works 20-25% of the time, so the other 75-80% of the time they most likely will be getting power from a coal-fired power plant. This is only available to new industrial customers, so none will even be built unless a company moves here and makes a deal with the power company.
Currently two companies looking to locate in West Virginia have requested this option. One is looking in the Potomac Highlands for a suitable location to build a large facility.
The most important bill of the session is always the budget bill, SB 150. This is the general revenue budget; this does not include all the federal money. The $4.574 billion General Revenue Fund spending plan includes an additional $16.9 million to fund improvements to foster care programs, and $19.8 million to eliminate the waitlist for the I/DD waiver program. The West Virginia State Police will see an additional $500,000 in their equipment budget this year. This will allow them to purchase Class 4 bullet resistant vests for each officer in the field, plus additional needed equipment. Class 4 vests are designed to give added protection against rifle bullets. It also includes $1 million for the Governor’s Community Food Program to help with food pantries and $2 million in contingency funds to battle a potential coronavirus outbreak.
Another bill that the House had to agree to Senate changes on the final night was HB 2961 introduced and championed by Del. Tom Fast. It seems timely to talk about with the recent announcement of the requirement of backflow valves on connections to public water systems. This bill will restrict them to be used only where they are needed to protect the public water supply and allows the consumer to choose the brand they want, if it meets the specifications provided by the Public Service District, to reduce cost to the consumer.
All the bills discussed are now in the hands of the Governor to be signed or vetoed. The Legislature will meet periodically throughout the rest of the year for interim sessions where we hear audits of state agencies and presentations that may lead to creating legislation, but 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.