Customers may pay for ice storm damage


While the ice storms that left thousands without power for up to two weeks may be a month gone, they may cost West Virginians well into the future.

Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said the company spent between $55 million and $65 million on power restoration efforts in West Virginia in response to the storms that caused a peak of 97,000 outages among its customers, including more than $30 million for additional workers from outside its West Virginia service territory.

Now Appalachian Power is looking to recoup those extraordinary costs, and customers could be on the hook to pay.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail published a story by Mike Tony Sunday here.

Consumers won’t see broadband and cable companies filing rate increase cases with the Public Service Commission. They aren’t regulated by the commission for broadband service. They compete against each other for customers, so if a telecommunications company chooses to raise rates, it runs the risk of losing customers to its competition.

So, the next time the cable or internet company raises rates, remember they made the repairs to their damaged poles and lines just like the power company did. And if you live in a populated area, chances are you could run to their competition. Consumers can’t change electric providers.


H2C Analysis

An overlooked item in a broadband bill passed a couple of years ago that allows electric utilities to run broadband fiber on their lines is that unlike broadband providers, they can seek recovery of their costs to add that fiber to their poles.

No one really noticed, or cared, at the time because anything that will increase the reach of broadband into rural areas is welcomed by the legislature.

Recent bills have made it easier for co-operatives to form so they can pull their resources together to extend service into certain areas. The challenge is, the cost is so high, even when large groups of people and businesses pool their money, it is still cost prohibitive.

There are two factors that political leaders and others don’t acknowledge when trying to address broadband expansion – it takes lots of money and lot of customers in a defined area to make the investment profitable.




Engrossed Committee Substitute for H. B. 2263 – Update the regulation of pharmacy benefit managers.

According to  Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Mike Maroney, this is a complex bill dealing with pharmacy benefit managers, the often bedeviled middle men who negotiate prices between drug manufacturers and those who purchase the drugs, keeping a portion of the negotiated prices for their efforts.

How much they keep is often a bone of contention and not easily discernible, especially among state officials and lawmakers looking for money to pay for the spiraling cost of prescription drugs.

Maroney called the bill complicated. In his explanation, he noted:

New requirements are added for reporting to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

The bill establishes a $10.49 dispensing fee.

Prohibits PBMs from engaging in certain activities.

The bill is effective Jan. 01, 2022.

The bill now goes to the House for concurrence, or not, with the Senate amendments.


Syringe exchange being debated

WCHS reports, “Charleston first responders and city employees who responded to a survey did not give favorable marks to needle programs, with more than 86% saying the health department’s program was not good for the city and more than 83% saying they believe it led to an increase in crime.”

On a Monday radio show, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin, who insists the needle exchange is a health care decision to be made by providers, not politicians, said she was unaware of the survey and did not commission it.

Sen. Eric Tarr, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources, took to the airwaves Wednesday morning to speak on talk radio against syringe exchanges.

Tarr said most of the state’s 18 needle exchange programs cause too much “needle waste” often encountered by first responders.

On March 11, the Senate approved, with amendment, Engrossed Committee Substitute for SB 334, which requires licensing of needle exchange programs. In a county seeking a needle exchange, both the county commission and the sheriff must approve the needle exchange before it can open. Media reports indicate existing changes would probably be forced to close because they could not comply with the provisions of the legislation.

The bill is currently in  House Health and Human Resources


Professions and Occupations


Senate Government Organization Committee’s only but lengthy bill was a strike & insert for HB 2007, all relating to occupational licensing or other authorization to practice. The bill adds a new article 17 to chapter 21, new article 33 to chapter 29, and new article 1F to chapter 30. It provides for an application method for those with a valid license in another state to be licensed in West Virginia, as long as that person applying for licensure has worked in the licensed occupation for at least one year. Criteria that must be satisfied when applying for licensure is provided and the bill establishes that an applicant seeking licensure has never had a license revoked or suspended in another state, cannot have any pending investigations or disciplinary proceedings in another state and must be in good standing for licensure in this state. Applicants must also represent that they are planning to move to WV.

Senator Mike Caputo asked, “Who’s in and who’s out?” with regard to the bill as it came from the House. Counsel responded that many medical and health related licensing boards are exempt from this bill while several occupations and professions are included such as accountants, architects, engineers, foresters, landscape architects, social workers, tattoo studios, massage therapists, and realtors, among others. “I have received more calls on this bill than I have on any other in a long time,” said Caputo. Senator Jeffries asked counsel about reciprocity and was told that this bill does not depend on reciprocity. Jeffries responded, “So we’ll welcome people from Virginia but they don’t have to recognize us.” A representative of the Funeral Directors’ Association had concerns about health risks, particularly for embalming. Jimmy Wriston representing the state Dept. of Transportation said, “This bill is a race to the bottom,” explaining that it reduces the minimum requirements for most professions. “It creates an uneven playing field by creating higher requirements for our own in-state professionals,” Wriston said.

Legal counsel for the Institute for Justice, speaking from Louisiana, explained their mission is to “protect civil liberties” and that they advocate for these “recognition laws” across the country to reduce licensing barriers. Arizona adopted a similar law two years ago and is the oldest state to have this recognition law, reporting no problems, explained Ford. Senator Lindsay, doing some online research, found that Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame was the initial funder and founder of the Institute for Justice.

Sam Hickman, Executive Director of WV Chapter of National Association of Social Workers, noted that mental health is a vital component of health care. “Social work has multiple levels of licensing in WV, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work,” explained Hickman, asking for social work and other mental health related professions be exempt. In response, Senator Swope emphasized that the various professional boards have final discretion in whether or not they allow a license under this bill.

Executive Director Tabor for Professional Engineers Board said they have rigorous standards that this legislation takes away. “Not all chapter 30 boards are equal,” Tabor explained, noting that consumers can’t pick what engineers design their infrastructure. She added that the licensing process is not a problem because 82% of our practicing engineers in WV live out of state but fulfill the current requirements. Asking for an exemption for engineers much like health care professionals are exempt, Tabor pointed out that if engineers are not minimally competent, they could impact hundreds if not thousands of people at one time. Ed Tucker was the next witness called to testify on behalf of the WV Architects Board. Speaking against the bill, he said, “I do believe there are unintended consequences.

The American Institute of Architects, West Virginia, sent an email to senators that stated, “The Board of Architects has been at work protecting the public for 100 years. Its reciprocity model is based upon model law, has been refined over time, and works extremely well. Reducing the requirements that have ensured safety flies in the face of public protection.”

A representative from the WV Society of Land Surveyors spoke against the bill for several reasons, including that there are no provisions that enforce whether people actually become a resident.

After a couple of hours of discussion, Chairman Maynard decided to take this bill up at a later date.


Paycheck Protection & PACs


Engrossed Committee Substitute for HB2009 – Relating to limitations on the use of wages and agency shop fees by employers and labor organizations for political activities

This bill passed the Senate on Wednesday by a 20-13 vote. It prohibits governmental entities from collecting dues from unions and other organizations and forwarding those dues to the unions.

Some version of this bill has been around for years, but the Republican super-majority made it happen this year.

Charges were leveled the bill is payback to West Virginia educators, most of whom pay their union dues by payroll deduction.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for concurrence in amendments made in the Senate. Police, who pay dues to their fraternal organizations by payroll deductions, have voiced their opposition to the bill.




The House Education Committee had two contentious bills on its agenda Tuesday. HB2364, which would permit teachers in K-12 schools be authorized to carry concealed firearms as a designated school protection officer. Committee staff recommended an amendment to clarify that training for school protection officers includes 32 hours of training, 16 of which must be in person. The local sheriff will also have a training program on use of force that also includes an annual re-qualification. It provides for a fee by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) of up to $195 that may be charged to the county school board, which may be passed on to the educator.

Committee Counsel responded to a number of questions, including whether increasing the number of law-enforcement officers rather than arming teachers was considered, to which he indicated that is a policy question and he was unaware.

Based on additional questions, Counsel informed the committee that teachers would first volunteer and then would have to have the requisite training before serving as a school protection officer, the bill appears to provide for the protection of others and not just the individual with the concealed carry permit; that counties must opt into the program, and that it only applies to administrators and teachers, not service personnel.

Sarah Stewart of the Dept. of Education responded to questions about the bill, and when asked about insurance coverage, she stated that counties are responsible for insurance premiums.

Stacy Nowicki-Eldridge, general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security was also asked about the liability issue. She indicated that the question of liability depends on a number of circumstances.

Dale Lee, Pres. of WV Education Association, said the organization has not taken a position on the bill, “But I personally would not want the burden of being an SPO.” He also stated that if the intent is to protect students then the legislature needs to go further to provide for the emotional and social needs of students.

During the discussion on the motion to report it is noted that 28 states have adopted similar legislation. Furthermore, it is a voluntary program. The committee voted to recommend passage of the bill to the House on a roll call vote of 16-6.

The committee then debated an originating bill regarding participation in single-sex secondary school athletic events. The bill amends current code by requiring the Secondary Schools Athletic Council verify that students are participating pursuant to the gender indicated on the student’s birth certificate.

The bill applies to middle and high school activities and requires a birth certificate at the time of admission to school. While other states have considered similar legislation, Counsel was not aware of any states passing such legislation.

When asked whether a female place kicker may participate in football, Counsel responded that federal law (Title IX) would permit a female participate in male sports unless a female football team exists.

Sarah Stewart, with the WV Dept. of Education shared with the committee that currently there are no rules that address students transitioning to a different gender, and she is unaware of any complaints about transgender students playing sports. Steward stated Title IX controls circumstances for female students playing sports on male teams. The department has no policies, but she indicated that the outcome of a case currently pending before the U.S. Fourth Cir. Court of Appeals may cause the bill to violate federal law. She also indicates that she is unaware of any complaints about transgender students playing sports.

No one from the SSAC was available to speak at the meeting because they were occupied in a Senate committee.

Eli Baumwell, Policy Director for the ACLU is asked about the impact on federal Title IX funding which he believes may be terminated if the state is in violation of federal law. He also believes there are some privacy concerns as they would be required to disclose information about the gender at birth and efforts to undergo transitioning.

Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, was asked whether the bill can be laid over until someone form the WVSSAC could be available, and a motion is made to do so. On a voice vote, the Chairman held the motion to be rejected. Division was called for and the Chairman’s ruling was sustained, so the bill then was up for a vote on passage of the bill.

On a voice vote, the motion appeared to be defeated but the Chairman indicated he was uncertain. A division was again called, after which it was determined that the motion to report the bill to the full House with a recommendation that it pass was adopted by a vote of 15-6.


State Personnel


The West Virginia Senate unanimously approved Committee Substitute for HB 2011, which removes the 1,000-hour cap on employees returning to state government to work following retirement. This codifies action West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice took by issuing a series of executive orders during the beginning of the Coronavirus epidemic. The bill now returns to the House.


Sine Die