From The Well

Day 22


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.



Health Care



House Committee rejects scrapping CON


The House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee voted 12-10 Tuesday against HB4013, which would eliminate the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) for health care providers.


Delegates debated the bill for nearly four hours.


Bill supporters believe repealing the CON program would give residents more options for health care, increase the number of rural hospitals in the state, and provide more savings in health care costs and possibly save more lives.


Click here for more information.



Vaccination waiver sought for rural hospitals


Governor Jim Justice and the administrations of two other governors are scheduled to speak Thursday with the Biden administration about gaining vaccination mandate waivers for some hospital workers.


The Governor said Wednesday the call would take place with leaders of Virginia and Tennessee. The governor has expressed concern that the vaccination mandate could increase staffing problems at rural hospitals.


Workers at hospitals that treat Medicare or Medicaid patients must be fully vaccinated or receive an approved medical or religious exemption by Feb. 28. A decision in January by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the mandate to stand.


Click here for WVMetroNews coverage.



Senate bill reduces size of Board of Medicine


The West Virginia Senate voted 34-0 Wednesday to reduce the number of members on the West Virginia Board of Medicine from 16 to 15.


Committee Substitute for SB138 removes a podiatrist from the Board and creates an odd number of members. The state has 125 podiatrists.



Mental Health



Bill specifies support for 988 service


The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday took up SB181, which is intended to improve the quality and access to behavioral health crisis services by implementing a 988 suicide prevention hotline.


By passing the bill, the state would comply with the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 and Federal Communication Commission rules. The federal legislation is intended to ensure a consistent level of behavioral health services.


Counsel indicated the Public Service Commission projects that, based on FY2021 carrier reported line numbers, the 11-cent monthly fee on mobile telephones contained in the legislation will generate about $1.6 million annually for the Statewide 988 Trust Fund created in the bill.

Senator Ron Stollings of Boone County indicated the legislation is much needed, especially given the impact of the Covid pandemic on the mental health of West Virginians.


Senator Stollings asked to hear from Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett, who has worked with the Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Behavioral Health, to develop legislation to implement the 988 suicide hotline. Commissioner Puckett recommended the legislation be effective from passage.

Chairman Mike Maroney of Marshall County indicated he was particularly interested in the funding mechanism contained in the legislation.


Lata Meno, CEO of First Choice Services Inc., said she projects a 300% increase in calls after implementation of 988. The projection is based on the simplicity of use and promotion of the 988 number.

Currently, First Choice Services Inc. receives $190,000 from the state to operate 13 state-authorized hotlines.


Ms. Menon said the $1.6 million generated by the subscriber fee is sufficient to operate the program. She noted that without the additional funding, First Choice Services would not be able to hire and appropriately train sufficient staff. Federal law provides that if calls are not answered within five minutes, calls will roll over to national service centers.

Ms. Menon said staff members will be paid $20 to $24 per hour.

Chairman Maroney said funding of the program was a choice between the subscriber fee of 11 cents per month for mobile devices or a legislative appropriation.

The committee recommended the bill to the full Senate for passage by a voice vote. However, the Senate Committee on Finance first must consider by the bill.



Bill focuses on support for behavioral clinics


The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday considered SB247, which relates to certified community behavioral health clinics.

Counsel said the purpose of the bill is to require the Bureau for Medical Services to develop, seek approval of, and implement a Medicaid state plan amendment as necessary and establish a system of certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHCs).


Additionally, the Bureau for Medical Services, in partnership with the Bureau for Behavioral Health, is mandated under the bill to establish a state certification system for CCBHCs.


Finally, the bill authorizes all nonprofit comprehensive community mental health centers and comprehensive intellectual disability facilities to be eligible to apply for certification as a CCBHC.

Former Senator Mark Drennan, CEO of the West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association, indicated the legislation has the potential to transform behavioral health clinics in the state. Mr. Drennan noted the success of similar legislation in Missouri.


In response to a question from Senator David Stover of Wyoming County, Mr. Drennan said implementation of the legislation is likely to have a positive impact on persons who often are subject to involuntarily commitment and result in cost savings to counties.

The committee recommended the proposed legislation for passage by the full Senate, but the bill first must be considered by the Senate Committee on Finance.



House panel expands transport options


The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday reviewed Committee Substitute for HB3043, which involves the transport of persons to mental health-related hearings.


The original bill mandated that the Department of Corrections handle mental hygiene transports for the regional jail inmates. The Committee Substitute that passed changed the language to allow the Department of Corrections to enter into agreements with Sheriffs in the 10 counties with regional jails.


Currently, responsibility for mental health transports lies solely with Sheriffs unless they have entered into agreements with municipal law enforcement.


“For a small county, this is a burden,” said Delegate Bryan Ward of Hardy County, a former Sheriff.



Criminal Justice



House Judiciary advances parole bills


The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed two bills related to parole.


Committee Substitute for SB437 would provide for early discharge of parolees after a minimum of one year on parole by clarifying that the Commissioner of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation can request early discharge of a parolee. The chair of the parole board then can grant early discharge rather than the decision being made by a panel of the parole board.


Committee Substitute for SB449 clarifies the Nonviolent Offense Parole Program is not available to offenders who are serving a sentence aggregated either consecutively or concurrently with an offense that is a crime of violence against a person or animal, as well as a felony-controlled substance offense, a felony firearm offense, or a felony where the victim was a minor child.


The provisions of the Nonviolent Offense Parole Program are unavailable to those previously released under the terms of this section from the same sentence. Counsel explained it is a “one-shot deal.”






House Committee OKs geothermal bill


The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed legislation that supports development of geothermal energy.


HB4098 defines terms and ownership rights associated with geothermal energy development. The bill states that geothermal resources are declared to be a different resource, neither mineral resources nor water resources.






House Committee considers nepotism rules


HB4114, which involves the West Virginia Ethics Commission rule on nepotism, was the topic of discussion prior to its passage by the House Judiciary Committee.


Teresa Kirk, Ethics Commission General Counsel, said the rule specifically states that nepotism is an improper use of public office for private gain and tightens up nepotism changes that were made in 2017.


As an example, she said the child of a public official with the court could apply for a job with the court but that the public official was not to participate in the process or be present at an interview.


Miscellaneous rules will be bundled into HB4114.






Bill prohibits computer connections


The House Judiciary Committee Counsel on Wednesday said HB4438 would specifically forbid election computer systems from “talking” to one another.


The bill would require electronic voting systems to be independent, not networked, and have no component connected to the Internet.


Currently, election systems in West Virginia are not connected to the Internet. The purpose of the bill is to make that clear for the future.


Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County asked about voting apps available for military, first responders, and others.


Donald Kersey, General Counsel to the Secretary of State, said the app was a transmission method and not a voting system.


“This bill is aimed at voting machines themselves,” he said.



House bill changes voting challenges


The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday reviewed HB4442, which modifies the process of contesting elections.


Committee Counsel said the bill makes procedures very different for contested elections. Procedures for election contests before a special court would be applicable to contested elections of certain judges.


The jurisdiction of election contests for county, district, and municipal elections is changed from the county commission or municipal governing body to circuit courts.


A recount proceeding is required to be completed before filing certain election contests.


Delegate Lisa Zuckoff of Marshall County asked who would decide what county to file in if a senatorial district included multiple counties.


Committee Counsel thought it would be up to the person who filed.


Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County asked, “If a contested election goes from the county commission to the circuit court, do the rules of civil procedure apply? Could a jury trial be demanded?”


Counsel responded yes to both questions. Delegate Fast pointed out that when the county commission hears an election contest, there is no jury trial and there is a quick resolution.


Chairman Moore Capito of Kanawha County complimented his committee’s diligence and said, “We need to give this bill a little more attention and lay it over for at least a day.”



Footnote for Readers



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Legislative Calendar




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


Hartman Harman Cosco, Public Policy Strategists, LLC, (H2C) is a strategically assembled bipartisan lobbying firm comprised of legal, communications and policy professionals. H2C possesses the insight and intuition that only comes from decades of hands on experience leading community and statewide initiatives.







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