Governor issues State of Preparedness



Fifty counties included in advance of potential flooding


Gov. Jim Justice has declared a State of Preparedness in advance of potential flooding that may affect West Virginia next week.


This State of Preparedness covers the 50 West Virginia counties currently categorized by the National Weather Service as being under a Flood Watch or a Hazardous Weather Outlook. Certain regions within these counties are currently under a Flood Warning, according to the NWS.


The Governor’s State of Preparedness allows for the mobilization of resources to assist with preparation for any potential flooding or other storm-related damage.


Additionally, the Governor has activated the State Emergency Operations Center and has instructed all State agencies to exercise their appropriate authorities associated with this State of Preparedness.


Gov. Justice stands ready to declare a State of Emergency for all areas that the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management deem necessary.


Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, and Wetzel counties are not included in the State of Preparedness because the NWS has not issued a flood watch, warning, or advisory in any of these counties. However, additional counties may be added to the State of Preparedness at a later date if deemed necessary.





HB2598, which makes changes to the Aboveground Storage Tank (AST) Act, was taken up last week in the House Committee on Energy. The legislation redefines which ASTs are exempt from regulation. Specifically, it seeks to remove tanks containing 210 barrels or less of “brine water or other fluids….” in zones of critical concern. These types of tanks historically pose an extremely low risk of harmful impact.


Zones of critical concern are identified by their proximity to a surface water intake and the intake’s susceptibility to potential contamination. In total, it would impact approximately 887 tanks.  After a robust debate, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Health and will likely be taken up next week.


The Act was passed following the Freedom Industries chemical spill on the Elk River in 2014. The Elk River serves as the water source for West Virginia American Water’s Kanawha Valley Treatment Plant.


Public Hearing on Zoom Monday Morning


The House of Delegates announced a public hearing regarding HB2389, which authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection to promulgate a legislative rule relating to water quality standards. It is anticipated that opponents to the Above Ground Storage Tank Act will use the hearing to voice their concerns.


The hearing will take place virtually via Zoom Monday March 1, from 9 to 10 a.m.


The Zoom link for the hearing will be posted on the House Committee on the Judiciary legislature webpage prior to 9 a.m. Monday. Those wishing to speak were to call the House Friday afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m.



Beyond the Dome


After being denied a request for a public hearing regarding the Above Ground Storage Tank bill in the House of Delegates, a “People’s Public Hearing,” was organized Friday by several advocacy groups via Zoom. At one point, 70 people had logged into the online hearing, and dozens of speakers had presented comments.


In a story reported by Shauna Johnson of WV MetroNews, Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition said, “This is what we hoped for and expected. (It) reinforces to our legislators that the public is watching, that we’re concerned about our water and we urge them do the right things for the interests of all West Virginians not just a few tank owners.”


Last Thursday, on MetroNews “Talkline,” Delegate Bill Anderson (R-Wood), the chair of the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee, defended his decision to put it on the agenda.


“I believe it’s an appropriate relaxation to allow these folks some relief so that they can continue in business,” Anderson said.

“As I looked at the record that I’ve secured from the Department of Environmental Protection about any releases they’ve had, they have been minimal at best and no water system in the state has had to be shut down.”


You can read Johnson’s full story posted here.



Senior Citizens



Another year of budget presentations by the Bureau of Senior Services (BOSS) to both finance committees, and another year of confusing testimony by BOSS Commissioner Robert Roswall. Last year, the Senior Nutrition portion of the BOSS budget received a boost from Governor Jim Justice through a supplemental appropriation of $3m to enhance congregate and home-delivered meal reimbursement rates. The appropriation also helped reduce the number of seniors who were on a waiting list for home-delivered meals. It was understood at the time that the $3m level needed to be maintained in the budget going forward because the centers would need to provide meals to seniors on the lists going forward. Shortly after the passage of the appropriation, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the way seniors received their meals changed. Doing their best to keep seniors safe, the main focus of senior centers became home delivered and grab-n-go meals to existing recipients, recipients who had been on the waiting list and other seniors who requested delivered meals because of fear of the virus.


Roswall lauded the Bureau and the providers ability to adjust to senior to respond to seniors needs in the COVID-19 pandemic.


Unfortunately, when pressed by members of the Senate Finance Committee, Roswall admitted that the Senior Nutrition line of the BOSS budget was $1m short. He said the Bureau expects to be awarded additional CARES Act money or a grant to make up the difference. He also stated the Bureau anticipates that need for home-delivered meals will decline as the pandemic wanes and senior centers are able to re-open, therefore the costs should level out. After asking several questions to get Roswall to admit the nutrition line in the budget was short the money needed to maintain reimbursement rates for the entire fiscal year, Senator Roland Roberts, R-Raleigh warned Roswall not to wait “until you’re out of money to come back and ask for more. It puts the legislature in a bad position and the seniors are too important to not maintain the budget properly.”



“Without a stimulus, we have a major deficit we have to deal with somehow, if we’re going to continue to serve this level of meals.”

Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Robert Roswall



On Friday, Roswall faced similar questions from members of the House Committee on Finance. He reported that he expected to learn whether the agency would receive additional CARES funding in the next day or two. When asked about the line item in the budget for the senior meal program, and whether it decreased from last year to this year, Roswall stated it had an additional $2m, and did not acknowledge the decrease from $3m to $2m. He did defend the line item when asked about its necessity and admitted, “Without a stimulus, we have a major deficit we have to deal with somehow, if we’re going to continue to serve this level of meals.”


The mention of reliance on CARES money prompted Delegate Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, to ask, “Are you suggesting that the solvency of the meals to seniors program is dependent on federal dollars that you may or may not receive?” Roswall responded, “The solvency of that program at the current level depends that we get CARES money, yes.”


In summary, senior centers are serving far more meals because they are serving those on the waiting lists from previous years and because of the pandemic. The state budget went from a $3m supplemental appropriation for meals in fiscal 20-21 to $2m in fiscal 21-22. And BOSS is planning on using CARES funds to make up the deficit caused by A) the $1 million reduction, B) seniors added to the roster from the waiting list and C) seniors taken on by the centers because of the pandemic.



Crime, continued



So far this session, Com Sub HB2257 in House Judiciary has had the longest discussion prior to passage, clocking in at 3 hours over two days. Picking up where they left off on Thursday, Stacy Nowicki, deputy counsel for the Dept. of Homeland Security was asked if Corrections has rehabilitation programs. She explained several that are available, including a new program in the regional jails called Goals that offers counseling, job skills, drug rehab, and other programs. “We invest a good deal of money into education in prisons, jails, and the juvenile system,” Nowicki said.


Kenneth Matthews, introduced as a success story, told the committee about his experience. He is currently on parole with two months left for drug offenses. HIs addiction began with a college football injury and went from oxycontin to heroin. “I was comfortable in prison facilities,” Matthews explained, saying he had to ask himself why, because nobody should be comfortable there. He began working on himself with the programs available in prison. He credited the people and programs that are instituted in this state for helping acclimate him upon release by helping him find housing, prepare for job interviews, and assist with transportation. “Existing programs with people who actually care are what helped me,” Matthews explained. He is currently a recovery coach at WVSU. He noted that “technical violations,” such as a speeding ticket, while on parole or possibly extended supervision could send him back to incarceration. “It’s hard enough being a felon to get employed, much less being under supervision. Missing a couple of appointments (with probation officer), even for work, could lead to re-incarceration,” Matthews responded to a question about extended supervision.


Testimony was followed by lengthy discussion both in favor and opposed to this bill. Those opposed made points that the solution is not more government, the bill does not help people move on from felony convictions, lengthening sentences has never been a new or innovative idea, and that extended supervision creates up to a 10 year barrier for employment. Proponents noted that the judges have discretion and extended supervision could help people. On a roll call vote, the committee passed the bill with 15 ayes, 10 nays.



Last Week in the House of Delegates



by Ann Ali

Communications Director, House of Delegates


Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates spent a great deal of time last week in committee meetings debating proposals, and regular legislative session is now more than one-fourth complete, and a total of 25 House bills have passed the House out of 787 House bills introduced. Two more bills completed legislative action last week as well.


The Senate passed House Bill 2019, which would elevate the West Virginia Economic Development Office and Tourism Department to cabinet-level offices, and Feb. 26 the House approved Senate Bill 14, which would provide additional options for alternative teacher certification. Both measures now go to Gov. Jim Justice for action.


House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, announced Thursday a virtual public hearing for House Bill 2389, which would allow the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to set certain water quality standards.


Public hearings have never been provided by the West Virginia Senate, but House Rule 84 was amended this year to allow House Committee chairmen the discretion to grant or deny public hearings based on their committee resources, and any public hearings that take place this year must take place virtually.


“We want to make sure everyone knows they have access to us and to the actions here in Charleston,” Capito said. “That’s why we’ll be hosting the first virtual public hearing, and we’re excited to do so. This is of course new, so we hope everyone will be patient with us as we Zoom together from our committee room on Monday, and we’re looking forward to the participation.”


House Bill 2002, which aims to remove any remaining regulatory hurdles to installing fiber for broadband access, will be reported out of committee to the full House of Delegates this week.


Members of the Senate continue to debate the House’s bills on charter schools and licensing reform.


The full House passed House Joint Resolution 1, which would allow the public to approve a constitutional amendment that would bring the West Virginia Board of Education in line with every other state agency in requiring the state Legislature review, approve, amend or reject any BOE rules. This move to add a layer of accountability to the Board of Education, which is made up by individuals appointed by the Governor, received overwhelming and bipartisan support this week. It now goes to the Senate for debate.


“What this does is it simply allows the voters to decide whether or not their elected officials in the legislature should be able to approve or disapprove rules from the board of education,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. “For every other state agency, the Legislature in West Virginia we can approve and disapprove of rules. This would extend that to the board of education.”


Delegates also voted unanimously to expand West Virginia’s two restorative justice programs for juveniles through House Bill 2094, which has been sent to the Senate for its consideration. The measure would allow any juvenile facing any charge to participate in a one-time program that includes a mediator who facilitates a voluntarily meeting between the victims and the juveniles who have been accused of crimes, and the group creates a process for restitution which can lead to the juvenile’s criminal charges being dismissed.


“There’s no way to be tougher on crime than preventing it in the first place,” said Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and lead sponsor of the bill.


Another change to this year’s legislative session due to COVID precautions has been an amendment to House Rule 65 which outlines a scheduled time for limited remarks by members to be made and video streamed to limit the amount of time the full body and staff are together in an enclosed area. Five members made remarks Feb. 24: Delegates Danielle Linville, R-Cabell; Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; John Doyle, D-Jefferson; Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas; and Joey Garcia, D-Marion.



Sine Die