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.
In addition to Monday being Presidents Day, it was the Forty-first day of the legislative session, which is the last day to introduce bills in the Senate. The last day to introduce bills in the House was Feb. 15th. Bills originating in committee, supplementary appropriation bills, and resolutions may still be introduced.
Other days of note remaining in the session:
Forty-seventh Day – February 27 – the day bills are due out of committees in their house of origin to ensure three full days for reading on the floor.
Fiftieth Day – March 2 – Crossover Day, which is the last day to consider bills on third reading in their house of origin and pass them on to the other body. This does not include budget or supplementary appropriation bills.
Note: A bill isn’t necessarily dead until the session is over at midnight on the 60th day. A bill that did not pass out of its house of origin could be amended into a bill that is “germane” (on topic) to the subject. The Speaker and President, usually with advice of counsel, determine whether a topic is germane or not.
Sixtieth Day – March 12 – the session adjourns at Midnight.
Committees OK state park investment
West Virginia State Parks and the Division of Natural Resources received a lot of attention in both wings of the State Capitol this afternoon. The Senate Natural Resources Committee, as well as the House Government Organization Committee both considered companion bills to extend the existing authority of the director to enter into third party contracts for the financing, construction, and operation of recreational, lodging, and ancillary facilities to all West Virginia state parks, state forests, and state rail trails. Early in the afternoon the Senate Natural Resources spent a good deal of time considering a committee substitute for SB 485, and then later on, House Gov Org debated HB 4408 for nearly an equal amount of time.
Members of both committees asked James Bailey, Department of Commerce Counsel, questions as to the necessity of the bill, specifically the portion allowing some agreements that could last as long as 50 years. Bailey assured legislators that the money the state has spent renovating many of our state parks over the past several years has sparked interest in investment by private companies. He referred to the installation of a zip line at ACE Adventures as an example of a potential investment opportunity.
Monongalia County legislators, Senator Bob Beach and Delegate Barbara Fleischauer both expressed serious concern about the bills permitting ATVs or even “mountain” rollercoasters in Cooper’s Rock State Park. Bailey told both members there’s no language that would allow for that, or disposal of or privatization of a state park. Fleischauer questioned counsel about wording within the legislation that could inevitably allow for a Kings Dominion-type of agreement in one of our State Parks for as much as 20-30 years.
After more than an hour of questions and debate, both committees amended the bill requiring the Director to notify the Interim Joint Committee of Government and Finance of any agreements or contracts regarding the stipulations laid out in the bill. SB 485 now heads to the senate’s finance committee for further consideration. HB 4408 passed HGO and now heads to the full House for approval.
Voting rights restoration hits snag in Senate
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday considered Committee Substitute for SB488, which eliminates restrictions on voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Today, the bill was sent to the Rules Committee on 2nd reading. Many times, if a bill is endanger of dying on the floor Leadership will have a bill placed into the Rules Committee to get issues resolved.
The Committee Substitute for SB 488 authorizes persons who have been convicted of a crime that resulted in incarceration to be invested with all political rights, including the right to vote, upon release from incarceration for the felony conviction either through pardon, parole, probation or completion of sentence.
Under current law, a person convicted of a felony is not eligible to register while serving his or her sentence, including any period of incarceration, probation, or parole.
Personal Delivery Devices
Committee passes delivery device bill
House Judiciary passed Com Sub for HB 4675 which deals with low-speed autonomous delivery vehicles, specifically electronically powered mobile carriers and personal delivery devices. A mobile carrier must be actively controlled within 25 feet. A personal delivery device needs to be monitored. No markers or license plates are required for the mobile carrier, it is limited to 12.5 miles/hour and used to transport personal property. Personal delivery devices are limited to 12 miles/hour on sidewalks and 25 miles/hour on highways and can transport goods and cargo. No hazardous materials are allowed on either. They are not considered vehicles under the law but personal delivery devices must have insurance coverage. “That is the delivery of the summary of HB 4675,” said counsel.
An example was provided that these devices are used for such things as Amazon or pizza deliveries. Municipalities are prohibited from any further regulation of these devices, according to the bill. Counsel opined that the devices could fall under a pre-existing regulation that was applicable to every vehicle but a municipality could not specifically regulate these types of transport.
MPLA Updates Advance
Following the floor session, House Judiciary took up and passed Com Sub for SB 25 which would revise provisions of the Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA) relating to the prerequisites for filing suit against a health care provider under the act.
It updates the definitions of “injury” and “medical injury” and clarifies time limitations for bringing a cause of action for medical injury as a result of alleged medical professional liability against a health care provider. The time frame for issuing a statement of intent to provide a screening certificate of merit in certain actions under MPLA is changed from 180 days 120 days. A Supreme Court opinion found that the law is not clear for actions that result in death due to medical negligence in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and related entities. This bill clarifies that it is a period of one year, while for almost all other health care providers it is two years. The bill passed with 14 yes votes and 6 very loud no votes.
Delinquent Tax Sales
Senate Finance spent an hour on Com Sub for SB 552 before deciding to lay it over until a future meeting due to the number of questions. The bill significantly changes the delinquent tax sale process, essentially ending the Sheriffs’ tax sales and having all sales conducted through the Office of the State Auditor.
Auditor McCuskey described the bill as a means of addressing the dilapidated buildings problem throughout the state. He quoted a WVU study saying there are $180 million worth of dilapidated houses in WV. The other goal, according to Auditor McCuskey, would be to streamline and expedite the process. He said that the state currently conducts 53 out of 55 Sheriffs’ tax sales but was corrected by Deputy Auditor Russ Rollyson that they do only the paperwork afterwards for all but Wood and Kanawha counties.
Senator Robert Rollins from Raleigh County called upon Mr. Frybarger, a frequent buyer of delinquent lands in Raleigh, Wyoming, and Mercer, to speak to the bill. He pointed out that everything is moved from the Sheriffs’ tax sales to the Auditor’s tax sale and that taking 304 days down to 60 days is a lot less time to gather information and find heirs. Frybarger said there are advantages to having one system and one code section but it must be legal, fair, and equitable to the delinquent taxpayer. “At the end of the day, the majority (of properties) are redeemed. The majority are not dilapidated,” said Frybarger.
State getting closer to endemic
Gov. Jim Justice said Monday it would be “wonderful” if the state could move in its treatment of COVID-19 from a pandemic to an endemic.
Some states, including California and Utah, have made the move to endemic. That’s when a disease remains present but is limited to a particular region.
Gov. Justice and members of his coronavirus leadership term indicated at Monday’s briefing the state is getting closer to the transition.
Parents who homeschool their children would only have to turn in a progress report after their child’s first year of being home-schooled in a bill passed by the state Senate Monday.
SB 541, which was approved 20-13, eliminates the academic assessment currently required for homeschoolers at grade levels three, five, eight and 11. It would just be required once if academic progress is shown. Those assessments are currently handed in to county school superintendents in the form of test results or a work portfolio.
Del. Steve Westfall requested an originating bill that would exclude proceeds from life insurance policies from creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding. Del. Westfall explained that this bill applies to a person who dies during a bankruptcy proceeding, to make it clear that the life insurance is not available to creditors.
Bob Hurley, speaking in favor of the bill said that 28 states have full creditor protection including our surrounding states of PA, OH, KY, VA, and MD. He clarified that his interest was protection of the cash value of the policy. Due to confusion on the wording of the bill and its effect, the bill was put into subcommittee.
Medical Cannabis Surveillance
The committee also passed HB 4743 relating to security and surveillance requirements of medical cannabis organization facilities and requiring these facilities to retain recordings, up to 180 days, unless needed for investigative purposes.
House Judiciary also quickly passed the “Suddenlink” bill, HB 4773, adopting the FCC customer service and technical standards and requiring certain cable operators to operate an in-state customer call center.
Footnote for Readers
Access to some of the stories in From The Well may require a subscription to that news outlet. H2C Public Policy Strategists has no control over the terms and conditions other news outlets set to access their content.
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.