Senate Judiciary took up SB263, which amends current law to enable charitable organizations to conduct online raffles to raise funds for their causes. Under current law, a raffle cannot be conducted online in West Virginia. (See H2C Blog Post from Sept. 2020– Charitable Raffles in West Virginia: Is it Time to Move Online?)


Committee counsel Thomas Smith, Esq. briefly explained the contents of the bill. The bill has been converted into a committee substitute, which a mends definition of “bingo” and “raffle” to allow on-line bingo and raffles. The committee agreed to the language of the committee substitute and sent the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.



Update on Occupational Licensing



A committee substitute for HB2007 passed the House on Feb. 18 and has been assigned to both Senate Government Organization and Judiciary. The Business and Industry Council (BIC) has formed a taskforce that has reached out to members of the Senate Government Organization Committee. The letter reads in part:


“The Business and Industry Council is opposed to any legislation lowering the standards established by the regulatory bodies established in Chapters 21, 29 and 30 of the West Virginia State Code.

While we certainly support any one declaring residency in the state of West Virginia being able to continue to practice their chosen profession, we cannot support that practice without a process in place to ensure that they are held to the same high standards established by our occupational licensing boards.

A one-size-fits-all approach to occupational licensing is a mistake and will hurt our businesses and consumers. Please, vote to protect West Virginia businesses and consumers by supporting our Occupational Licensing Boards. “



Governor’s Bill – Legal Beverages



House Government Organization exemplified that the longer the bill, the shorter the discussion! Following the counsel’s explanation and one question, a lengthy bill requested by the Governor, HB2025, passed.


The purpose of this bill is to provide liquor, wine, and beer licensees with some new concepts developed during the State of Emergency (pandemic) utilizing new technology to provide greater freedom to operate in a safe and responsible manner.


Additionally, it provides for new licenses to reflect societal requests, by creating: (1) the ability to sell sealed liquor drinks in a craft cocktail, sealed wine, and sealed beer by a Class A licensee or a third party; (2) permit to transport a food order and beer, wine, and liquor in a vehicle to a purchasing patron; (3) outdoor dining and outdoor street dining areas when authorized by a municipality for beer, wine, and liquor; (4) authorizing in-person or in-vehicle delivery while picking up food and sealed legal beverages; (5) an unlicensed brewer or home brewer temporary license to attend a limited number of fairs and festivals in WV and provide nonintoxicating beer to patrons; (6) permitting distilleries, wineries and farm wineries to operate a private manufacturer club on their licensed premises which can include outdoor spaces; (7) permitting owners of distilleries to operate wineries, farm wineries, brewers and resident brewers; (8) authorizing the direct shipping of liquor to adult West Virginia residents by distilleries; (9) expanded definitions and requirements for pre-mixing alcoholic drinks not in the original container with public health and safety issues addressed; (10) a new license for a private caterer which is already licensed as a private club restaurant to cater food and alcohol to unlicensed venues; (11) a new license for a private club bar which only provides pre-packaged or basic food in a limited kitchen; (12) a new license for a private club restaurant which provides freshly prepared food in a restaurant style kitchen; (13) a new license for a private tennis club bar; (14) a new license for a private wedding venue or barn where food and alcohol are provided on limited basis and the licensee does not operate with daily bar hours; (15) a new license for a limited one-time, once a year license for a charity to conduct a liquor auction in conjunction with a private club; (16) a new license for a multi-vendor fair and festival license where multiple vendors may share liability and responsibility when conducting a joint alcohol event authorized by a municipality; (17) facilitating the economic development of hard cider in West Virginia; (18) authorizing the ability to sell sealed wine growlers from wineries, farm wineries, and various wine retailers; and (19) providing additional exceptions to the criminal penalty for the unlawful admission of children to dance house for certain private clubs with approved age verifications system.






House Judiciary continued a discussion from last week on HB2257, providing for extended supervision for certain drug offenders. It establishes supervised release penalty of up to 10 years for certain drug offenders and when period of supervised release begins.  Supervision would be by multi-judicial circuit probation officers. Jackson County Sheriff Mellinger provided testimony to the committee based on his expertise in methamphetamine, experience in large drug cases, and arrests, and service as a special agent for the U.S. Marshal and DEA over his 24-year law enforcement career.


Asked about how the battle against drugs is going, Mellinger responded, “We wake up every morning and go to sleep every night losing.” One trend that he has seen over the years is that substances change but the biggest trend now is the propensity for violence in the drug trade. “Offenders are not afraid of law enforcement or consequences,” the Sheriff said. “The constant is money. Make no mistake, there is a lot of money in drugs. It’s a business and they will go to great lengths to protect their investment.”


In response to data from a U.S. Sentencing Commission study that found a 76% recidivism rate nationally, Sheriff Mellinger said that WV’s is higher at 84% He explained this difference is due to WV’s tight-knit communities, where the offender will see the people every day who got them in this situation. They will continue to run in that small circle and that leads to the higher recidivism rate. Asked directly if extended supervision would be helpful, Mellinger responded that he thought it would help on a multitude of levels. “If offenders are honest, they’ll tell you every day is a challenge. They are fighting community pressure and physical and psychological addiction,” he explained.

Stephanie Bond from the Division of Probation provided a fiscal estimate for an additional eight probation officers for a total of about $585,000 per year for extended supervision. Intensive probation would require 30 additional probation officers for a cost of $2.2 million annually. Funding would be the responsibility of the Supreme Court. She agreed with Chairman Capito that there are a lot of unknowns and assumptions in order to estimate cost.

Stacy Nowicki, deputy counsel for Dept. of Homeland Security, was asked about the WV Recidivism Report. That 2020 report is based on people released in 2016 and found a 24.16% recidivism rate for drug or narcotic offenses with overall recidivism at 29.25%. 654 people were released for drug and narcotics offenses in 2016.

The committee will continue the discussion Friday – with pizza!



Highlights from the Floor



Justice says right-to-work, prevailing wage fizzled — and Democrats cheer


During the remarks segment of the Senate Floor Session, several senators engaged in a discussion of the Right to Work law. The discussion kicked off when Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion commented on discussions with the Governor regarding eliminating the personal income tax. But the focus of his remarks were the enactment of Right to Work and repeal of the prevailing wage and how the promises of prosperity have not come to fruition. The Senator noted that Gov. Justice recently indicated that he does not believe those two legislative initiatives have been a success. The point is that he hopes they can move past divisive issues and work together, as one, on those things that move WV forward.


Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, echoed Sen. Caputo’s remarks and suggested that both Right to Work and Prevailing Wage laws should be reversed.


Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph pointed out that WV’s workforce participation rate prior to 2014 was the lowest rate in the nation, and that pre-Covid WV had the highest. He is not saying those legislative enactments were the reason, he believes they were part of a mosaic of enactments championed by the majority.


Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, recounted Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch’s recent comments regarding the number of out of state and international companies looking at WV. He went on to attribute West Virginia’s recent economic vitality is due to reforms made by Republicans. He advocated for the repeal of personal income tax, which represents 43 percent of state revenue. He pointed to the nine states without a state personal income tax and suggested that their economic indicators “blow the doors” off the economic indicators of states with a state personal income tax. He asserted that personal income tax repeal will result in state population growth by making the state more attractive to working-age families. He pointed out the nine states without a personal income tax as examples of states with increased population growth.


Sen. John Unger, D-Berkley spoke against looking for the “silver bullet”. An investigation will often show many factors resulted in a particular outcome. Not just one thing. He pointed to an economic forecast published by the WVU School of Business. He read a section from the report that recommends the importance of combatting the opioid drug crisis and public health outcomes. The Senator then pointed to a recent bill passed by the Senate that runs counter to the recommendation. While he does not dispute that the repeal of the personal income tax will have a significant impact on the state’s economy, but that we can’t let the other “bricks” that make up the state’s ability to have a strong economy “crumble.” He asked that they be conscious of decisions of the shared vision for the state and not rely on a silver bullet and recognize that the wall is built brick by brick.


Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha Stood to speak, suggesting that it is important we admit errors. He said Right to Work and the repeal of prevailing wage were errors and it is important to be honest with the public. Respond pointedly to Sen. Tarr’s remarks regarding population growth.


Sen. Chandler Swope – Attempts to counter argument that there is no statistical proof of the success of Right to Work and prevailing wage repeal. He believes that there are many factors that play into a business’s desire to move to WV. Difficult to prove businesses didn’t come to WV. So, it should be no surprise that there is no statistical evidence. But there is anecdotal evidence which persuades him that those legislative initiatives have been a success.

At least twice recently, the governor has said previous promises to drive growth — through establishing right-to-work, cutting the prevailing wage or cutting corporate taxes — haven’t delivered. “And we’ve run to the windows and they haven’t come,” Justice, a Republican, told the state Wednesday evening.


As Brad McElhinny with WV Metronews reports, Gov. Justice made the comments in his townhall meeting Wednesday evening.


Gov. Jim Justice has been pitching a big proposal to halve the state’s personal income tax, but his administration hasn’t yet presented a bill for people to examine. Justice suggested — but didn’t promise — that might change today.


“Probably tomorrow, I’ll have it to the Legislature,” Justice said during a Wednesday evening Town Hall event about his proposal.


Today is Day 16 of the 60-day annual legislative session, meaning it is a little more than one-quarter concluded.


The income tax in about $2.5 billion a year and represents about 43 percent of the state’s general fund, paying for services like education and healthcare.


So far, the proposal has been heavy on salesmanship and short on specifics.


Justice has been talking about cutting the income tax since the day after last fall’s General Election. He proposed its broad outlines during his State of the State address earlier this month.

The governor has hosted two Town Hall events already this week and seems to be promising more. And he met privately with legislative Democrats on Wednesday morning.


At least twice recently, the governor has said previous promises to drive growth — through establishing right-to-work, cutting the prevailing wage or cutting corporate taxes — haven’t delivered. “And we’ve run to the windows and they haven’t come,” Justice, a Republican, told the state Wednesday evening.


But this plan will be different, he said.

His pitch is that people know him by now and should trust him. And he’s betting on the absence of a West Virginia income tax being so attractive that people will come here in droves from elsewhere.


“Nothing has sex appeal like getting rid of your state income tax,” he said Wednesday night.


But what’s been missing is a detailed description of the tradeoffs. Justice is talking about raising a variety of other taxes, including the personal sales tax, but there have been precious few specifics for people to weigh against what he characterizes as the gain.


When a citizen identified as Shay from Moorefield asked on Wednesday what the plan actually is, Justice told her “It’s not going to hurt the state budget.”


But, in that moment, he stopped short of actually telling Shay the specifics of the plan to offset the cut.

“Now we don’t need to go through every little piece of it,” the governor said.


A few minutes later, though, state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy spoke and delivered a somewhat more detailed version of what the tax plan would do than previously described.



The concept, Hardy said, is to cut the state personal income tax in half by next Jan. 1. That amounts to about a billion dollars.


“Then the question becomes, how do we keep West Virginia whole and keep things going smoothly?” Hardy said, noting that the governor has specified that the state General Fund should remain flat over the next several years.


Read the rest of McElhinny’s story here.



Sine Die