OPINION

FROM YOUR DELEGATE: Taking on new duties as Speaker Pro Tempore

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Del. Gary Howell

By Del. Gary Howell

The halls of the Capitol are still eerily quiet with the COVID restrictions of the Executive Order in place. On Wednesday, we passed Day 15 of the 60-day session, but not as many bills have moved as in previous years due to limits on staff.  I continue to take on additional duties in my new role as Speaker Pro Tempore and was recently appointed to represent the House of Delegates on the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust Board (WVJIT). The WVJIT was created to develop, promote and expand West Virginia’s economy by direct investment in West Virginia’s enterprises to create jobs, sustain growth, and provide new opportunities.

I have also been appointed to Southern Legislative Conference’s Executive Committee for 2021, being West Virginia’s representative to the 15-state organization.  

    The House Committee on Finance continues budget hearings, and the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure met this week. One bill in that committee, HB 2222, would prohibit vehicles that drive in the left lane when not passing.  One Delegate jokingly asked if this would unfairly target Ohio drivers, who are routinely seen staying in the left lane. This bill moves on to the Judiciary Committee.     Here are some highlights of the bills that passed the full House this week:  

HB 2253 makes it a misdemeanor to forge winning lottery tickets. Under current law, forging a $2 scratch off ticket could land one a long prison sentence or fine. This creates a penalty more fitting to the lower dollar crime.  

We also passed HJR 1, by a 96 to 2 bipartisan margin, putting forth an amendment to the West Virginia State Constitution allowing the Legislature oversight of Department of Education rules. Currently the Legislature has oversight of all state agency rules, which have the force of law, for each state department, except the Department of Education.  

A bill that many have written about was HB 2500, the Statewide Uniformity for Auxiliary Container Regulations Act. This bill will prevent local governments from creating packaging requirements that raise the cost of products.

We also passed a bill to add penalties exposing government officials to fentanyl or any other harmful drug in the form of HB 2184.  As law enforcement increases the crack down on these harmful drugs, the risk of expose for them increases.  

Another bill of interest will prohibit West Virginia institutions of higher education from discriminating against graduates of private, nonpublic or home schools by requiring them to submit to alternative testing. This bill, HB 2529, was the final bill of the week to pass and it now moves on to the Senate.     For several years I have been working to have the Division of Motor Vehicles locate an office in Mineral County, including adding funding for an additional office in the Eastern Panhandle to the budget. I have been pointing out that Mineral County has been underserved and the population concentration of around 14,000 in the New Creek Valley was the logical location. That work will come to fruition on March 3, when a new DMV office will open in Mineral County south of Keyser. In fact, Mineral County was the highest populated county in the state without a DMV office or one close to the population center. With the opening of the office in Keyser, the next most underserved county will be Jackson County and the state is working to realign offices into areas where they can serve the greatest need.

    All of these bills now move to the Senate for their debate.  As always if you have an idea to make West Virginia a better place to live, work or raise a family please feel free to contact me.  If you need help with a state agency, please contact me.  My office number is 304-340-3191 or you can email me at Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov