From The Well

Day 8


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.






Commitee advances nuclear ban repeal


The Senate Economic Development Committee on Wednesday discussed SB4, which repeals the ban on building nuclear power plants in the state. Senator Mike Woelfel of Cabell County, a sponsor of the bill, said the goal of the legislation is to make West Virginia an all-of-the-above energy-production state.


Committee members asked whether other laws regulate the construction or operation of nuclear power plants and whether any government agencies have rule-making authority that regulate the production of electricity.


Senator Woelful said the Public Service Commission would have authority to regulate the industry.


Sen. Mike Romano of Harrison County asked whether any other provisions related to the oversight of nuclear power were eliminated. He said he wanted to know whether any agency, including the PSC, has specific authority to regulate nuclear energy.


Linda Bouvette, Staff Attorney with the PSC, responded to Senator Romano, saying a prospective operator would need a certificate of need and convenience.


The PSC believes regulations currently are in place to oversee the construction and operation of nuclear power plants if the law is repealed, she said.


The Committee reported the bill to the full Senate and recommended passage.



Film Industry



Committee shows support for film tax credit


The Senate Economic Development Committee on Wednesday took up SB51, which restores the state’s film tax credit program, and made only non-substantive changes to the bill. The bill is now headed to the full Senate for consideration.


Rachael Coffman, representative for the film industry, indicated many more small production entities now might be interested in taking advantage of tax credits. She said her client supports the legislation but is not the main proponent.


Senator Eric Nelson of Kanawha County asked about how direct costs of the program are to be determined. Counsel deferred to the Tax Commissioner.


Senator Nelson also asked whether the credit would cover a filmmaker’s expenses that did not occur in West Virginia. Counsel indicated the bill requires the expenditure to be made in West Virginia or with a West Virginia vendor.


Delegate Dianna Graves of Kanawha County said the bill does not reinstate the office, which was eliminated in 2017, but provides only for a tax credit. Delegate Graves indicated the former tax credit program had several problems, and the new bill attempts to ensure questionable practices do not reoccur.


Regarding a 40-minute specification for “feature-length” films, Graves said it was an attempt to prevent very short films from qualifying.


Senator Nelson and Senator Ron Stollings of Boone County asked about retroactivity of the credit. Counsel was not able to answer.


Delegate Graves discussed the retroactive nature of the bill, indicating several production companies wanted to film in West Virginia but did not because the state doesn’t offer a tax credit. She said some did film in West Virginia despite the lack of tax credits, and she added she wants to reward those production companies.


Senator Mike Romano of Harrison County noted an overlap between the former tax credit and the retroactivity of the current bill. Delegate Graves said she believes that it might be an oversight.


He asked what has changed since the repeal of the former credit. Delegate Graves said the former tax credit had problems, but she said she believes the program can be beneficial to the state. She also noted the success of the streaming industry, such as Hulu and Netflix. She said those businesses are working in other states and not in West Virginia because of its lack of credits.


Senator Mike Woelfel moved to amend the Committee Substitute to remove the provision making the bill retroactive. The committee adopted the amendment. Senator Eric Tarr of Putnam County, Committee Co-Chair, supported the amendment. The motion to amend the Committee Substitute was adopted.


Senator Nelson moved to amend the bill to include a sunset provision of five years. Senator Tarr said he supported the amendment to ensure the program is effective.


The Committee adopted the motion.


The Committee Substitute was reported to the full Senate with a recommendation for passage.



Hunting and Fishing



DNR license date changes considered


The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday discussed HB2775, which changes the beginning and expiration of hunting and fishing licenses from the last day of the calendar year for which they were issued to the last day of the month the licensee was born.


Paul Johansen, Wildlife Chief for the Division of Natural Resources, discussed the related fiscal note, which projects a $750,000 loss in revenue in first year with $650,000 lost in following years. He said the loss could be as much as at $1.3 million during the first three years. The agency believes that is a conservative estimate.


The fiscal note used license sales in 2018 as baseline.


The projections, Chief Johansen said, are based on a 2015 study from California, which changed its licensing system from a license-year system to a calendar-year system. California saw a 10% to 30% loss in license sales after the change


DNR used the California example because the change there was similar to the proposed West Virginia legislation.


Chief Johansen said the state also would realize a loss of federal aid, which is based on state revenue derived from license sales. Further, first-year costs also would include changes to systems and training needs.


Members of the Committee expressed skepticism about projected losses.


Chief Johansen said DNR saw increased license sales during the pandemic, but he was not certain the increase is sustainable.


The Committee adopted an amendment to make the changes effective Jan. 1, 2026, and to change the date that licenses expire from the date of purchase to birth date of the license holder.


The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.






Free DNR licenses urged for volunteers


House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee members discussed HB4073, which would permit volunteer firefighters with five years of service to receive free lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.


Some Committee members raised concerns about a potential loss of revenue, which totaled $14 million last year.


Paul Johansen, Wildlife Chief for the Division of Natural Resources, said the fiscal impact would be significant – an estimated loss of $1.6 million during the first year and $140,000 per year thereafter.


Delegate Ed Evans of McDowell County asked whether license fees would have to be raised to offset revenue losses. Johansen said he believes so, but he was not ready to make that determination.


Asked why he proposed the legislation, Delegate Chad Lovejoy of Cabell County said he has noticed the difficulty volunteer fire departments have with recruiting and retaining firefighters. He said he believes passage of the bill would encourage volunteers.


Delegate Lovejoy said he is amenable to providing volunteers a tax credit rather than a lifetime license. He said his goal is to encourage individuals to volunteer.


Asked whether he would include other first responders in the bill, Delegate Lovejoy responded he would support that inclusion. He also said another way to help volunteer firefighters would be to increase the surcharge on casualty insurance policies from .55% to 1%.


The Committee laid over the bill to make changes consistent with the discussion before the committee.


In other business, the Committee referred HB2759 to the House Committee on Finance. The bill

provides a tax credit for 50% of the cost of a lifetime hunting, trapping, and fishing license for veterans who have been honorably discharged from the armed services and who are certified by the Veterans Administration to be not less than 50% totally disabled.


In addition, the Committee recommended passage of HB 4048 – the West Virginia Keep, Bear, and Drive with Arms Act. It first referred it to the House Judiciary. The bill clarifies that individuals may possess loaded rifles and shotguns in their vehicles unless they are there for the purpose to take wildlife.


The provisions of the bill are consistent with at least 23 other states. It is also consistent with the state gun laws in general.


The Committee also supported passage of HB2631, which allows off-duty DNR polie officers to accept employment to provide security services. It referred the bill to the Judiciary Committee.



Division of Natural Resources



Director Steve McDaniel to leave post


West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel is leaving his post after five years on the job.


Governor Jim Justice hired McDaniel was hired early in his first term. McDaniel said he initially planned to leave in four years, but Covid delayed a lot of projects. Read more here.


“I’m glad to see we finally got Sunday hunting statewide,” he told WV Metronews. “I’m proud we just came off three straight years of increases in hunting and fishing license revenue. We added over 85,000 acres of public hunting land during my tenure, and we brought in an additional 60 or 70 elk while I was here.”






Bill would alter DHHR deputy protection


With a 95-5 vote, the House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday that exempts newly hired deputy commissioners in the Department from Health and Human Resources from civil service coverage.


Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, Chairman of the Health and Human Resources Committee, said DHHR has 26 deputy commissioner positions, and five of those are vacant. The remaining 21 are civil service employees, he said.


Deputy commissioners are in policymaking positions and, as a result, should not be civil service employees, Rohrbach told the House.


Committee Substitute HB4059, he said, would not affect current employees.


House members approved the bill 95-5. They also voted to make the legislative effective upon passage.


Delegate Larry Rowe of Kanawha County said he was concerned that the lack of civil service protection would result in lost expertise and affect DHHR’s professionalism.



House votes to sunset 3 coalitions


The House of Delegates voted 100-0 Wednesday to approve HB4060 100-0, which eliminates three health-related coalitions established in state code.


The bill sunsets the Coalition for Diabetes Management, Coalition for Responsible Pain Management, and State Advisory Coalition on Palliative Care.


Rohrbach said the bill repeals outdated sections of the code.






Bill spells out ordinance recall election rules


The House Political Subdivisions Committee held its first meeting of the session to take up a carryover bill, HB2091, that would provide a recall election on county ordinances upon presentation of a petition bearing the signatures, written in a signer’s handwriting, of not less than 15% of the voters in the last general election.


An amendment to the bill passed that would require the issue to be on the regular primary or general election ballot rather than a special election. It was determined that it would be up to the County Clerks’ offices to certify the signatures on a recall petition.


Jonathan Adler, Executive Director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, responded to a question about the certification of signatures, saying, “The County Clerks would get it done, but it wouldn’t be an easy thing.”


Delegate Evan Hansen of Monongalia County said there is no provision for recall of laws passed at the state level.


“Let’s preserve local control and vote against this bill,” he urged.


While some expressed concerns particularly about bond ordinances and the instability a recall might cause, Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County suggested the bill can be more thoroughly vetted when it goes to House Judiciary. He urged passage.


The bill passed on a roll call vote but is second-referenced to Judiciary.






Bill allows hiring half-day poll workers


SB191 is one of eight bills the Senate quickly passed on the first day of the legislative session because the bill passed easily last year with bipartisan votes.


House Judiciary Counsel explained the bill allows counties to have the option of offering half-day shifts to poll workers.


The bill provides flexibility to the County Clerks based on their needs.


Jonathan Adler, Executive Director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, agreed that the bill provides an option and not a mandate for hiring half-day workers.


The bill passed, and the Chairman announced there will be no committee meeting the next morning due, at least in part, to the weather forecast “as so eloquently stated on the floor by the gentleman from the 36th.”


Jim Barach, Delegate from the 36th District, is a meteorologist and retired weather reporter and has been providing snow updates during the snowy session.



Roads & Transportation



Bill would alter responders’ E-ZPass access


The House Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services Committee passed a bill (HB2111) that would include emergency response vehicles in the single-fee program for E-ZPass transponders.


According to Committee Counsel, law enforcement is totally exempt from payment of the toll while firefighters and other first responders are exempt only if their lights are on.


Chairman Joe Statler held a brief discussion on some of the issues facing first responders and asked Committee members to talk with first responders in their districts and bring ideas to the committee. The main issues they are aware of now are training, recruitment, and retention.



Public Utilities



Committee: no interest on security deposits


The House Judiciary Committee passed HB3231 to provide that public utilities are not required to pay interest on security deposits held for up to 18 months.


A representative from the Public Service Commission explained the bill was not the PSC’s and got a laugh after she was asked about the amount of interest set by the PSC. Her response was “low.”



Tourism Day



State Senate observes Tourism Day


The Senate passed a resolution Wednesday in recognition of West Virginia Tourism Day – Jan. 19.


Senator Ryan Weld spoke to the resolution, saying, “In 2021, West Virginia had the highest number of visitors we have ever seen.”


Majority Leader Tom Takubo reminded colleagues and the listening audience that the Senate is prepared to allow full participation for guests remotely in committee meetings.






Governor announces WVBIP funds


Governor Jim Justice announced on Wednesday the preliminary approval of more than $17.4 million in Line Extension Advancement and Development (LEAD) program funds for various broadband infrastructure projects throughout the state.

The announcement marks the first round of grants awarded as part the Governor’s Billion-Dollar Broadband Strategy, also known as the West Virginia Broadband Investment Plan (WVBIP).

Grant recipients were selected among applicants in the LEAD program’s first application round, which closed on Nov. 30, 2021. Read more here.



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Some information in this update is collected from the WV Legislature’s Daily/Weekly Blogs.


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