Today was crossover day, the final day for bills to be read a third time in their house of origin. The House of Delegates has passed 200 bills, Senate members have passed 187, and 78 bills have been completed by both bodies. Gov. Justice has signed 36 bills into law.


Senate passes right-to-bear-arms resolution


The Senate voted 33-1 to pass a joint resolution that expands the West Virginia Constitution’s right-to-bear-arms to add a clause to prohibit cities and counties from adopting gun ordinances that are stricter than state law.Senators removed language that had been reinserted by the Senate Finance Committee that would have made it unconstitutional for state, city or county law officers to enforce any federal firearms laws stricter than state law. Judiciary Chairman Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, offered the amendment Wednesday to remove that language, saying it was too broad. However, that language are still exists in another bill being considered by the Senate (House Bill 2694).


Senate Judiciary committee


As Wednesday was crossover day, the only committees to meet were the judiciary committees in both houses.Crime

“Our work on measures originating in the Senate is all done,” announced Chairman Trump at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting. All the bills on their agenda will now be House bills. The first bill taken up and passed was HB2379, relating to the offense of criminal invasion of privacy by visual portrayal. Counsel described an example as taking nude photos in a place or situation where the person would have expectation of privacy. It changes the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony and increases the penalties for this offense.


Professions & OccupationsSenate Judiciary Counsel explained HB 2770 as a bill that expands the federal law allowing active duty and some retired police officers to carry concealed nationwide under LEOSA, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. The bill would extend the same to home confinement, probation, and parole officers but would be voluntary with each employer. The bill passed as a strike & insert amendment.

The Strike & Insert Amendment passed by the Senate Judiciary for HB 3130 substantially changed the bill as it came from the House. The House Bill prohibited the Public Service Commission from promulgating rules or regulations requiring wrecker companies to permit the registered owner of a towed vehicle to access the vehicle without a fee to retrieve his or her personal property. This was entirely excised from the bill and it simply extends the sunset date for towing and wrecker rules.

Charlotte Lane, PSC Chair, favored this change, saying it was their original intent. In a comment acknowledging the number of bills regarding how tow trucks are called, Senator Smith asked, “Is there any way we could amend this bill to get these people to quit fighting with each other?” Chairman Trump noted that he had to go retrieve Senator Blair’s personal belongings from his car after a wreck last year and the bill as it came from the House wouldn’t have allowed him to do that unless he paid the towing bill.

After a subcommittee report recommending repeal of the entire article in HB 3175, Senate Judiciary counsel presented a strike & insert amendment reflecting that report. HB3175 as it came from the House removed certain felonies that can prohibit vehicle salespersons from receiving a license. The subcommittee report determined that car dealers should be allowed to police their own employees and therefore the entire article 6E was removed as a deregulation measure.


House Judicary


Education and Grievance LawThe House Judiciary Committee rejected SB566, which relates to interpretations of school laws. Currently, the law authorizes any citizen, teacher, school official, county or state officer, to request in writing, that the State Superintendent of Schools provide an interpretation of the meaning of any part of the school law or of the rules of the State Board of Education. SB566 requires that any such interpretation be upheld and applied by affected entities and parties, including but not limited to the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board. This bill would in a sense provide a fourth source of law in these matters.

The discussion focuses on the amount of deference to be given to the opinion of the state superintendent. Many delegates spoke in opposition to giving the interpretation of school law by the state superintendent in grievance proceedings ultimate authority.

Interestingly, the committee did not want to hear from a nameless expert who is in the hall. The bill was unanimously rejected by a voice vote.


Online rafflesThe committee passed 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?)

The committee amended SJR4 , which amends the West Virginia Constitution to remove a provision found in section 47 of Article 6 to authorize the incorporation of churches or religious denominations. The prohibition on churches being incorporated is found in only West Virginia and Virginia. The prohibition was found unconstitutional by a court several years ago. The amendment changes the phrase “religious denomination” to “religious institution” and was passed by the committee. The bill now goes to the full House.

Actions, Suits & Liens

SB673 allows for civil actions where a party’s principal place of business is in West Virginia, and the construction project is in West Virginia, may be brought in West Virginia for any construction contract entered into on or after July 1, 2021. Further, venue selection clauses in the construction contract mandating the action be brought outside West Virginia would be unenforceable. Arbitration proceedings mandating arbitration provisions for a construction contract entered into on or after July 1, 2021, would take place in West Virginia and, to the extent it requires arbitration to be conducted elsewhere, such provision is unenforceable .

The committee reported the bill to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.


Governor opposes other tax plans


Gov. Jim Justice told Brad McElhinny he wished someone had talked to him about the Senate tax plan.The Senate bill doesn’t have the tiered tax structure for coal, oil and gas. Nor does it have any additional tax on alcohol.

“The lobbyists are controlling the day, are they not, when it really boils right down to it. The coal industry has probably bought its way out of an obligation, the gas industry the same thing, the soda tax, liquor,” Justice said. “You know, in my opinion that’s just not right. All we’ve asked really of the natural resource industries was just to step up when things are really, really, really good.”

McElhinny’s full story can be read here.


The Governor also told WSAZ that he will not sign the current House or Senate version of his proposal to eliminate the state personal income tax.Justice said he was just as surprised by the Senate plan as Democrats in the chamber, who both got their first look at the bill just hours before it was voted on in committee. The Governor said he was upset to not be included in the discussion of this proposal after reaching out to meet with legislature leadership multiple times to discuss the effort to eliminate the income tax.

Speaking about the House plan he said, “Bless their heart, but it doesn’t do anything. All the House plan really does is do one thing, it gives delegates a chance to go home and say ‘we cut your taxes, reelect us.’”

Read WSAZ’s report here.


Beyond the Dome


Evaluating West Virginia Income Tax Repeal PlansIt is not a new idea; West Virginia legislators have looked to lower income taxes in the past as well. It is, however, an idea with renewed focus: a dramatic reduction in income tax rates, and perhaps eventual income tax repeal, to create economic opportunity and drive population growth in a state that badly needs a boost.

The Tax Foundation provides analysis of the plans offered up by West Virginia leaders here.


Sine Die