From The Well

Day 35


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.






Committee OKs carbon-sequestration bill


The House of Delegates Committee on Energy and Manufacturing passed HB4491 on Tuesday, establishing requirements for a carbon-sequestration program administered either by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, depending on the agency where the business entity applies for a permit.


As legislators heard information on an amended bill, Ben Beakes of TC Energy was asked about similar legislation in other states. He told committee members the bill is modeled after legislation in North Dakota, and that Indiana also was considering a similar bill.Beakes said Louisiana is currently trying to develop projects, and that Houston wants to be the “carbon hub” of the U.S.


Beakes said many companies are considering setting up a carbon-sequestration framework. He added CO2 will be needed for product development for years to come.


“The legislation before you allows West Virginia companies to capture carbon, store it in West Virginia, and ultimately give it to West Virginia land owners,” Beakes said.


He said no company is going to invest billions into the capture and sequestration of carbon until the legislation is reality.


Currently, one active carbon-sequestration injection site is active in the state.


Jason Wandling, General Counsel for WVDEP, said rules have been passed to allow for Class VI Underground Injection Control (UIC) facilities, and that mechanical tests to ensure the integrity of the well structure is sound. They include seismic tests and the monitoring of any potential carbon escaping into the atmosphere.


After CO2 is injected and stored 10 years, ownership of the carbon dioxide transfers to the owners of the pore space. Liability is then transferred to the state.


Wandling added that while CO2 storage is not harmless, tests have shown no human health effects other than the potential for climate change should the carbon dioxide escape.


Delegate Brent Boggs of Braxton County told the committee about the effects from earthquakes his district has experienced with fracking fluid injections. Wandling said requirements for injection of CO2 are designed to ensure a seismic shift won’t occur. He further said the potential for seismic activity doesn’t seem to appear as a concern.


HB4491 now heads to the House’s Judiciary Committee for further consideration.



Law Enforcement



Bill adds officers who can carry firearms


The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee passed Committee Substitute for HB4596 Tuesday to add persons qualifying for the provisions of the federal Law-Enforcement Officers Safety Act.


Counsel said the bill is the same as HB2770, which passed the House last year. This year’s version adds three new authorized persons to last year’s bill — home incarceration officers, juvenile probation officers, and probation officers.


The bill would allow home confinement supervisors, state adult probation officers, juvenile probation officers, and state parole officers, by virtue of their duties, to be qualified law enforcement officers who may carry a concealed firearm nationwide, as authorized by the federal Law-Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA).


Counsel said, while the bill refers to those positions as qualified law enforcement officers, it does not mean they have training at the State Police Academy and do not become certified law enforcement officers. The reference to LEOSA must be in the language to allow these persons to carry concealed weapons in all 50 states and in buildings and facilities where firearms are prohibited.



Child Welfare



Prosecutors oppose shift to private counsel


Giving the Department of Health and Human Resources the ability to hire its own counsel in abuse-and-neglect cases is a bad idea that likely would be costly to taxpayers, leading state prosecutors say.


Currently, the DHHR is represented by prosecutors and their assistant prosecutors in abuse-and-neglect cases.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






Panel ponders absentee voter applications


Committee Substitute for HB4293 created confusion on Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee and was sent to a subcommittee.


The bill would prohibit the mass mailing of absentee ballot applications and also prohibit any absentee application being given out without a specific request for it. Violation of the law would be a felony.


Committee members got a legislation lesson from Committee Counsel, who explained why HB4312, which has passed both bodies, has been incorporated into 4293. The two bills are in the same sections of code, and if the bill that passes last does not incorporate the new language in the bill that passed first, the bill that passed last takes precedence.


Delegate Lisa Zuckoff of Marshall County posed a hypothetical question about what would happen if she filled out an online application for an elderly relative, and consequently the office of the County Clerk mailed an application to a person who didn’t actually request it.


Counsel said the County Clerk potentially could be in violation and may need to verify all online requests.


Another Delegate pointed out that a candidate could go to a person’s door, hand out an unrequested application, and be charged with a felony but could punch the person in the face and be charged with a misdemeanor.


Secretary of State General Counsel Donald Kersey said the bill sought to bring uniformity to a problem his office saw in 2020.


“Voters get confused if they get an application and think they’re eligible,” he said.


It also creates a situation where one county in a senatorial district does a mass mailing and others in the district do not.


Delegate Mike Pushkin of Kanawha County asked whether any fraud had been reported from the mass mailing of applications in the June 2020 primary.


Kersey responded, “Just the mail carrier incident.” (A mail carrier changed the party of the ballot requested on some applications).


Chairman Moore Capito of Kanawha Count stopped discussion and sent the bill to a subcommittee, appointing Delegates Ben Queen (Chair), Chris Pritt, Laura Kimble, Joey Garcia, and Lisa Zukoff.






Panel specifies penalties for distributors


The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday had a long discussion about a Governor’s bill, Committee Substitute for SB536, clarifying statutes on possessing, manufacturing, importing, and transporting fentanyl in West Virginia.


Fentanyl possession is given a three- to 15-year penalty, and an offense is created of using fentanyl to adulterate another substance.


Transport of fentanyl has a penalty of 10 to 20 years and a fine of $50,000, and a new offense is created if a person 21 years or older uses a minor in conducting an offense.


Catie Wilkes Delligatti, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney and President of the West Virginia Prosecutors Association, told the committee the bill is important because it eliminates the need for the state to prove an amount and adds advanced penalties.

She said the weights in place now are not useful to prosecutors.


“We are seeing fentanyl pressed into pills that look like oxycontin or even Flinstone vitamins. This will assist us in prosecuting offenses with fentanyl,” said Prosecutor Deligatti, speaking in favor of the bill.


Joanna Vance, a recovering addict for six years and spokesperson for American Friends Service Committee, told members she lost her father to fentanyl 15 years ago. She expressed opposition to the bill, saying more jail time is not going to help.


“Fentanyl is in everything — cannabis, pressed pills, and methamphetamine,” Ms. Vance said.


Senator Robert Karnes of Randolph County asked her about her personal story and how she came to recovery. She said she grew up in Boone County and started using drugs with her parents at age 12 and said she went through a “spontaneous or solo recovery.”


Jack Luikart, Director of the West Virginia Fusion Center, told the committee that fentanyl is not manufactured in West Virginia, but it’s brought here.


“The intent of this bill is to get these people,” he said.


He provided data, stating that West Virginia is currently No. 1 in overdose deaths, with a 21% increase in deaths from 2017 to 2020.


Berkeley Bentley, General Counsel to the Governor, said the bill focuses on dealers and those who are adulterating drugs with fentanyl. He said the Governor’s goal is to decrease the number of people dying because they don’t know they’re ingesting fentanyl.


Morgan Switzer, Homeland Security Deputy General Counsel, further emphasized, “This bill is not targeting the users. It (fentanyl) is killing people in West Virginia. This bill is intended to punish the people who are killing the user.”


Senator Mike Caputo of Marion County asked how fentanyl is produced and how we know it’s not produced in West Virginia.


Senator Tom Takubo, a physician from Kanawha County, said it’s an opioid made from poppies and is very potent and is used every day in the medical field. He said it would take 75 to 150 micrograms to put the Chairman to sleep in a medical setting.


“I’d appreciate it if we’d avoid the gratuitous observations about the Chairman’s size,” joked Chairman Trump.


Senator Ryan Weld of Brooke County amended the bill to “any person” rather than a 21-year-old using a minor to commit offenses.


The amendment passed, and the bill passed after nearly two hours of discussion. It will be referred to the Finance Committee.


Bill bars subpoenaing Review Board members


The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed Committee Substitute for SB595 with no discussions or questions.


It modifies the Dangerousness Assessment Review Board by barring the subpoenaing of board members to testify in proceedings about which the board issues advice, guidance, or opinion.

The bill requires, in lieu of testifying, that the Board provides copies of all documents and materials used in providing its advice, grievance, or opinion upon request of a circuit court.






Bill proposes to break up large agency


The Department of Health and Human Resources could be split in two under a bill moving in the House of Delegates.


The restructuring could split the agency into one that administers health programs and another focused on human services programs.


The bill sets a mid-summer deadline for DHHR to accomplish the task — an element of the legislation that caused concern among some legislators.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, speaking before Delegates on Tuesday, asked for caution. Crouch particularly questioned whether a rapid restructuring is possible. He also described ways a combined agency may be more efficient — by having combined human resources or accounting functions, for example.


Click here to read WVMetroNews coverage.






Committee votes to limit testing labs


The House Judiciary Committee got another lesson in legislative procedure on Tuesday, when a motion was made by Delegate Steve Westfall to reconsider HB4627, which limits medical cannabis labs to two.


The bill failed Feb. 14 on a 9-9 vote.


A motion to reconsider a previous action of the committee may only be made by a Delegate who voted on the prevailing side. However, in the case of a voice vote in committee, there is no record of the vote. As a result, anyone, regardless of how he or she voted, may request reconsideration.


The Delegate who requested reconsideration acknowledged he voted on the “losing” side, but the rule allows him to request reconsideration if it was a voice vote.


This time the bill passed 14-8.



Economic Development



Manufacturers see job investments as trend


During his State-of-the-State Address in January, Governor Jim Justice discussed plans by Nucor, Green Power Motor Co., and Owens & Minor to bring factories and jobs to West Virginia.


Last week, Toyota announced another $72 million investment in the Buffalo plant in Putnam County, where the company will expand the plant’s capacity to produce components for electric vehicles.


California-based Omnis Building Technologies announced plans to locate an operation in Bluefield to produce environmentally sustainable building block materials.


Rebecca McPhail, President of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, believes it’s just the start, and she credits state government for a lot of the success. She noted the projects have a common: The companies have ties in one way or another to reducing their environmental impact.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






Senate panel approves anti-fraud unit


The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved SB543, which establishes a fraud unit within WorkForce West Virginia.


The bill would create a division to investigate unemployment fraud and establish training requirements for employees.


Chris McCauley, WorkForce West Virginia’s Director of Unemployment, said the unit is necessary to address fraudulent cases. The agency has units to address unreported earnings and other matters, and McCauley noted some groups started handling claims related to Covid relief.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.



Footnote for Readers



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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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