From the Well

October Special Session


At the center of the West Virginia state Capitol is an area known as The Well.

It is the informal gathering place for lobbyists, reporters, constituents and lawmakers.

Centrally located between the chambers of the House of Delegates and Senate,

The Well is often where information is shared, alliances are formed, and deals are made.


Inquiry from Maryland


3 counties interested in joining West Virginia


Legislators who represent Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties in Maryland are asking West Virginia legislative leaders to explore the possibility of those three counties becoming part of the Mountain State.

They sent the letters to West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair and House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw.

“These three counties in Maryland, we would welcome these counties. This is the first step. It’s early in the process if it even does happen. These counties are more like West Virginia than they are the rest of Maryland,” said Delegate Gary Howell, a Mineral County resident who who has been a part of the discussions.

Click here for details.




Congressional districts pared from 3 to 2


The West Virginia Legislature this week approved a congressional redistricting map that will divide the state into two districts. As the result of population decline, the state lost one seat in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation awaits the governor’s signature.


The newly approved map would combine most of the current districts of U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney into a new northern district. Rep. Carol Miller would be in the new southern district.

Click here for details.

Click here for map.




New State Senate map finalized


The West Virginia Senate approved a redistricting map with little debate on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The 17-district map passed on a 31-2 vote after the start of the Senate’s floor session was pushed back multiple times.

Click here for the map.


Single-delegate districts drawn


The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates approved legislation that would create 100 single-member House districts. For the past 10 years, 100 delegates represented 67 districts.

The Senate made a minor change in the House-passed version.

The Senate voted 28-5 with one person absent to approve House Bill 301. The chamber did not make any changes to the district lines proposed in the House bill but did amend the bill to be effective immediately upon passage. The Senate sent the legislation back to the House to concur with the change.

More than half of the state’s delegates are in multi-member districts, but a state law required the Legislature to approve a map with only single-member districts during this year’s redistricting process.

Click here for details.




Governor announces $1 billion plan


West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced plan Friday, Oct. 15, that he said will help strengthen broadband service throughout West Virginia. The government-funded plan, he said, will provide $1 billion to bring broadband to more than 200,000 homes and businesses.

Click here for details.


Officials say enhanced data is key


Governor Jim Justice called together state leaders on Oct. 20 to discuss the $1 billion broadband expansion project he announced last week.

He said the initiative will bring high-speed internet to about 200,000 households and businesses across the state.

Officials said enhanced data collection gives a more precise picture of the availability of high-speed service.

Click here for details.


Mister Speaker


Hanshaw reacts to congressman’s comment


West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw responded aggressively this week to an Illinois congressman who called the Mountain State “an irrelevant part” of the U.S. economy.

Speaker Hanshaw took exception to Rep. Sean Casten’s recent comment that was critical of West Virginia’s role in the national economy. He called it “an extraordinarily disappointing statement to hear from any member of the United States Congress.”

Casten made the jab to Politico on Monday while pushing the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP).

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia sent progressives scrambling to rework the climate agenda in the $3.5 trillion spending bill after he told the White House over the weekend that he would not support the program.

Click here for details.




Vaccination legislation becomes law


The State Senate narrowly passed a bill that outlines requirements for religious and medical exemptions to workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Senators passed the bill 17-16.

In the Senate, passionate debate touched on workers’ rights, the duty of employers, concerns about how new the COVID vaccines are, the importance of vaccines in controlling the pandemic, and whether the bill would actually achieve its stated purpose.

Click here for details.

Click here for analysis.

Click here to see the bill.


Health Care


Report identifies $5 million in fraud at PEIA


report to the Post Audits Committee of the West Virginia Legislature said PEIA paid about $5 million in fraudulent claims as the result of an eight-year scheme.

The report said ESI, which served as the Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) at the time, told PEIA it was aware of the activity, but it did not “provide specific detail nor were they readily forthcoming with any information on their knowledge of these operations.”

ESI lost the contract several years ago to CVS/Caremark. A PBM processes about $100 million in claims annually for the program, which provides coverage to West Virginia public employees.

The complaints triggering the discovery go back to 2015, when PEIA received information from members who received more diabetic supplies than the amount prescribed to them. Because of the complaints, “PEIA found that ESI, the PBM at the time, was processing claims for prescriptions that members had no knowledge of existing, were unrelated to a member’s medical diagnosis or were for a larger count than what they were prescribed.”

The report said prescriptions were being changed from local pharmacies to out-of-state pharmacies, and that an unnamed physician who wrote the prescriptions never treated, met, or spoke with members.

On Feb. 24, 2021, 75 pharmacies that PEIA identified as participants in the fraudulent activity were placed on a blocked pharmacy list. PEIA identified 65,733 potentially fraudulent transactions for claims processed from 2009 to 2017. They totaled about $5 million.

While PEIA is pursing financial recovery, its efforts have been somewhat hampered because of restrictions in code that prevent PEIA from filing formal complaints with the attorney general or the West Virginia Board of Medicine.

The Legislative Auditor, who made the report, recommended legislative changes to allow PEIA to file those complaints and suggested that PEIA institute a more robust fraud-detection program, including a written fraud-detection plan. It also recommended adding language to the PBM contract that would cause the PBM to share the financial impact of fraud.

A visibly irritated Senate President Craig Blair, who serves as co-chair of the interim committee, told PEIA Chief Financial Officer Jason Haught, who responded to the report, that he has repeatedly asked PEIA and other governmental entities whether they needed any legislative changes to make their work more efficient. Blair said he was not informed PEIA needed any such changes.

The report arrived three weeks before longtime PEIA Director Ted Cheatham’s scheduled Oct. 31 retirement.


PEIA holds line on most premium costs


State government workers whose health care is covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency will see no increase in premiums for the 2023 premium year, which begins July 01, 2022. Non-state government workers will see a 5% premium increase.

The PEIA Finance Board discussed finances during an Oct. 21 meeting.

Medicare retirees will see a 19% drop in premiums during this premium year. The decline mostly is attributable to a $34 million savings in prescription drug costs. Their premiums will not increase during the 2023 plan year.

Representatives from both the state’s major teachers’ unions called on Finance Board members to work with them to convince the Legislature to arrive at a permanent funding source for PEIA. Funding is now subject to legislative appropriation, and a funding crisis in 2018 was one of the factors that led to a work stoppage by educators and other public employees.

The Oct. 21 meeting was the last for retiring PEIA Director Ted Cheatham, who has led the agency for several years. Those attending were uniform in their praise of Cheatham, often pilloried by legislators, for his “honesty, professionalism, and grace.”

Long-time Chief Financial Officer Jason Haught is acting director.


Legislation clarifies public health powers


During the 2021 regular legislative session, Senate Bill 12 gave county commissioners and city leaders veto power over rules or amendments to rules created by local boards of health except in instances of health emergencies.

Senate Bill 12, which went into effect in June, gave elected officials veto power over health department rules, and decisions. Under the law, any rule approved and implemented by a health board and health officer must be acted on by the appropriate elected officials within 30 days of passage or it would not go into effect.

Despite Senate Bill 12 being in effect less than five months, Gov. Jim Justice requested the introduction of Senate Bill 3026 to close “loopholes” some say could allow health officers or boards to abuse their power. However, no one during consideration of the legislation provided specific examples of health officers abusing their authority.

The bill clarifies that local health department rules not ratified by a county commission or city council within 30 days are void and that local health department rules issued in response to an imminent public health emergency may be immediately effective. It also makes clear the authority of local health officers.

Additionally, the legislation provides that rules implemented before March 4, 2021, are not subject to the new oversight requirements unless a health board moves to amend it.

As initially proposed by the governor, the proposed bill included language that would have given county school boards the same authority as appointing agencies to vote down or approve any public health rule affecting public schools. The Senate Judiciary Committee removed that language.

Critics of the legislation argued the new law controverts the longstanding public health policy that insulated public health decisions from elective politics. Additionally, because some health departments are combined county and municipal health departments, health rules must be voted on by both the county commission and city council. Consequently, a county commission might approve a rule while the city council disapproves. Thus, the rule would be in effect only where it was approved.

The bill goes into effect immediately.


Children & Families


Bureaus ramp up under reorganization


The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children & Families learned about the reorganization of the state’s Bureau for Children and Families, which now consists of two bureaus.

Jamie Cole, interim commissioner for the new Bureau for Family Assistance, and Jeffrey Pack, commissioner for the Bureau for Social Services, appeared before the committee, which learned that Family Assistance will include TANF, SNAP, LEAP, refugee resettlement, WV Pre-K and other programs.

Commissioner Pack said the new bureau is currently filling positions and will try to align family assistance with judicial districts. It will have 1,500 employees when it is up and running. He noted many challenges, including staffing vacancies, recruitment, and retention.

“The state is not as nimble as it could be,” Pack said, describing the Division of Personnel. He said burn-out among employees creates retention problems. Asked about the hiring process, Pack responded, “It ain’t quick. We have jobs we can offer, but we can’t offer them quickly.”

Melanie Purkey, federal program officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, discussed child homelessness.

Asked by Senator Stephen Baldwin about how many children are homeless in West Virginia, Purkey said 9,508 children were homeless at the end of the 2021 school year, down 900 from the previous school year.

She said 87% are homeless by being “doubled up,” which she described as multiple families living in one household. She said 6% to 7% are in shelters or unsheltered; the rest are in hotels or motels.

One major policy proposal is data sharing between the Department of Education and DHHR to allow the agencies to provide further analysis.

She told the committee that, while there are a variety of causes of child homelessness, each federal agency has its own definitions. The McKinney/Vinto Homeless Act defines homeless children as those who lack an adequate nighttime address. That definition is used in West Virginia education law to identify homeless children. Services provided under the education definition focus on educational stability, such as where students will attend school, and what services they need, such as transportation. Title I funds based on poverty level must be set aside for homeless children for transportation, clothing, and school supplies.

Purkey further explained that the Health & Human Services definition for homelessness includes runaways or those living in shelters. The HUD definition opens up many other services for the literally homeless, those of imminent risk of homelessness, those defined as homeless under other federal statutes and those who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence.




Supplemental spending bills approved


Gov. Jim Justice submitted 24 supplemental appropriations bills to the Legislature for consideration. The bills passed both houses and now await the governor’s consideration.

Of the 24 bills, 13 addressed the spending authority for Federal Coronavirus Pandemic funding that is allocated to state agencies for specific programs/services.

Those agencies/programs are:

— Bureau of Senior Services

— Division of Human Services Energy Assistance Fund

— Department of Agriculture

— Division of Culture and History

— Division of Health Community Mental Health Services Fund

— Division of Health Central Office Fund

— Division of Human Services

— Division of Health — Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment

— Educational Broadcasting Authority

— Library Commission

— Department of Veterans Assistance

— Department of Veterans Assistance — Veterans Home

— Commission for National and Community Service

Eight of the 24 bills propose supplementing funding to certain state agencies in specific line items. The funds for the supplementals will come from the state’s unappropriated General Revenue balance.

The agencies/programs are:

— Division of Culture and History: current expenses, WV Women’s Suffragist Memorial

— Department of Economic Development: Global Economic Development Partnerships

— State Department of Education: WV Professional Charter School Board Fund

— Division of Personnel: direct transfer to the Department of Administration

— Department of Transportation Public Port Authority: direct transfer to the Special Railroad Intermodal Enhancement Fund (The Special Railroad Intermodal Enhancement Fund is authorized to spend funds transferred from the Department of Transportation.)

— Department of Transportation Office of Administrative Hearings

— Governor’s Office Civil Contingent Fund

Three bills do not fall into the categories listed above.

One bill expires funds from the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Recovery Fund and adds it to the General Revenue unappropriated balance.

Another supplements and amends the Budget Bill by transferring a designated amount from the Attorney General’s Consumers Protection Recovery Special Revenue Fund to the Medical Services Trust Fund.

The third bill authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to spend federal funds as designated under the Consolidated Medical Services Fund.

Bill information is available here.


Victims of crime funding addressed


Both houses of the West Virginia Legislature this week overwhelming approved HB 336, a $4.1 supplemental appropriation to fix a shortfall for victims of crimes because of a congressional delay in allocating funds.

The bill passed 96-0 in the House and 28-5 in the Senate. Sens. Mike Azinger, Robert Karnes, Patrick Martin, Rupie Phillips, and Randy Smith voted against it.

The federal government established the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to assist victims of crime. The fund is supported through settlement and penalty dollars associated with lawsuits and convictions; it does not receive taxes.

The federal government disburses funds to the states each year to support agencies that serve victims of crime. The Division of Justice and Community Services of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security administers grants to victim-serving entities.

The VOCA fund supports victims of crime, including child-abuse victims, domestic-abuse victims, sexual-assault victims, elder-abuse victims, and victims of other crimes.


Federal allocations began decreasing in 2018 because of a short-term redirection of funds through deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements. As a result, the amount of funds the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services could grant to victim-serving entities in West Virginia likewise decreased.

In July, Congress enacted the VOCA Fix Act, and the fund is expected to be restored after a three-year period. In the meantime, West Virginia will experience an annual shortfall. HB 336 addressed only the current funding year.




25 seek seats on new Intermediate Court


The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission (JVAC) released the names last week of 25 applicants who want to fill three seats on the newly created West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, the office of Gov. Jim Justice announced.

Intermediate Court of Appeals judges will assume their duties by July 1, 2022.

Click here for details.


Legislative Calendar


Interim meetings scheduled


The West Virginia Legislature has scheduled interim meetings in Charleston on these dates:


Nov. 14-16

Dec. 5-7