OPINION

FROM YOUR DELEGATE: Controversial bill addresses child custody

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Del. Gary Howell

By Del. Gary Howell

This week on Thursday in the House of Delegates we reached the halfway point of the session. Budget hearings are now complete for the session and the Finance Committee will begin to work in earnest on bills, as many bills that contain a financial component have found their way to the Finance Committee.

     Probably one of the more controversial and least understood bills of the session was “Best Interests of the Child Protection Act of 2021” aka HB 2363. It calls for the judge in any child custody case to assume a 50/50 time split between the mother and father as a starting point.  Child custody cases can be heart wrenching and the laws governing them are almost always controversial as was this one, which cut across party lines in bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. I read and reread the bill several times and talked to several attorneys to try and get a better understanding of it. It specifies that where any type of child abuse occurs, the 50/50 custody split is not a starting point in order to protect the child.  

After reading, it became clear that while this bill has great intentions, I do not believe it does anything at all, except give false hope to those that believe 50/50 agreements will be the result. In the end, no matter the starting point, the Family Court judge stills make the decision based on their interpretation of the facts. Nothing changes with this bill, and as a result I voted against the bill. It now moves on to the Senate.

    HB 2765 is one of those bills that make you think, “We had to pass a law for that?” The bill will allow emergency management and operations vehicles operated by airports to use red flashing warning lights on the public roads. In other words, an airport fire truck or ambulance could not legally drive down a public road in West Virginia because of its red warning lights. Somehow, they were never listed. I cannot imagine an airport fire truck ever being stopped by police, but this corrects that code section to make sure they are treated as any other fire and rescue vehicles.

    A bad bill that passed was SB 270, and it will likely make it harder for small business owners with short-term rentals in small communities to find marketplace facilitators to work with. Airbnb and Verbo are marketplace facilitators; you list your short-term rental with them, and they act as your booking agent. Under current law the short-term rental owners are required to pay their local taxes. This change in law will require the marketplace facilitator to collect and pay the tax to the local taxing authority instead of the actual business owner.  Proponents of the bill said some other states such as California do it this way. The largest city in West Virginia is Charleston, which has a population of 46,536 vs the city of Los Angeles with 3,983,540.  The population of Los Angeles is more than double the population of our entire state. It is likely if you have a short-term rental in a town like Elk Garden, that marketplace facilitators are going to say it is not worth the paperwork and not do business in many parts of West Virginia because of this bad policy.  

    HB 2916 creates a Semiquincentennial Commission for the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. The commission will be charged with coordinating events statewide to celebrate the founding of the greatest nation ever on the planet. This has special meaning for me as I am a direct decedent of a Revolutionary War solider that helped form our great nation.

    The Transportation and Infrastructure committee passed HB 2044 which will be the process of creating Next Generation 911 services in this state. Most states have already started or completed this process, but Next Gen 911 will allow dispatchers to pull GPS locations of emergency calls from cell phones and allow the transmission of photos and video from 911 callers using smart phones to help authorities better dispatch the correct resources.

    The other 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 e@mail me at Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov