From The Well

Day 56


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 situated between the chambers of the House of Delegates and Senate,

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



Mental Health



House greenlights Suicide Hotline bill


A statewide nonprofit organization is applauding the passage of a bill that would help improve access to behavioral health crisis services in West Virginia.


The House of Delegates on Monday passed SB181, which will provide a steady source of revenue for 988, a newly created national crisis hotline. The Senate previously passed the bill.


The 988 hotline will be implemented nationwide this July to provide quick access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which will be open to anyone experiencing mental health distress or crisis, not just suicidal thoughts.


The Senate’s version of the bill included a user fee of 11 cents per mobile user each month to fund the line, but House members removed that language.


Sheila Moran, Director of Communications for First Choice Services, said the fee should have stayed in place.


“We were hoping for that particular stream of income, but the Department of Health and Human Resources has agreed to fully fund our program,” she said.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.


Click here to read more from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.



Pay Raises



House panel OKs bill granting county hikes


The House Finance Committee on Tuesday quickly and unanimously passed a strike-and-insert amendment of the original version of SB172 as it passed the Senate.


The bill would provide a 10% increase for all elected county officials, effective July 1, 2022.


Committee Counsel noted that ordinarily the committee would incorporate the work of the first House Committee, Government Organization, in the strike-and-insert amendment, but in this case it was using the bill as it came from the Senate and made only one technical amendment.


All of the provisions that came from the House Government Organization Committee on Saturday were removed from the bill, including the provision for salary increases for the state constitutional officers.


Several county officials were present, including Raleigh County Circuit Clerk Paul Flanagan, President of the West Virginia Association of Counties; Laura Storm, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk; Virginia Sine, Berkeley County Circuit Clerk; Mike Woelfel, Cabell County Circuit Clerk; Mark Musick, Monongalia County Assessor; Irv Johnson, Cabell County Assessor; Chris Michael, Tucker County Assessor; Phyllis Yokum, Randolph County Assessor; Diana Cromley, Mason County Clerk; Brian Wood, Putnam County Clerk; and Sheriff Chuck Zerkle of Cabell County.






House Committee alters, passes bill


The House Finance Committee spent nearly two hours in discussion Tuesday before passing a strike-and-insert amendment for SB2, relating to unemployment benefits program.


As the bill came over from the Senate, unemployment benefits were capped at 12 weeks, reducing the current 26-week limit. House Finance added two weeks to make it 14 weeks and added a provision that individuals could accept part-time employment but still continue to receive benefits for the duration.


Also incorporated into the bill were SB3, requiring work search activities to qualify for unemployment benefits, and SB576, relating to unemployment insurance and Covid-19 vaccination requirement.


Delegate Brent Boggs of Braxton County spoke against the bill, saying, “It’s punishing workers who lose their job.”


Delegate Larry Rowe of Kanawha County added, “When people haven’t been able to find a job for 12 weeks, they’re in crisis. It’s kicking somebody who’s down. When they lose that job, they lose a part of themselves.”


Delegate Daniel Linville of Cabell County urged support, pointing out the improvements with the part-time employment provision and the more moderate 14 weeks.


Delegate Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County also spoke in favor of the bill, explaining that it would help ensure when West Virginia gets past the pandemic that it has sufficient reserves in the benefits program.



Storage Tanks



Committee tables bill to modify regulations


The Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee on Tuesday took up Engrossed Committee Substitute for HB2598, which modifies the inspection requirements and the definition of above-ground storage tanks. It tabled the bill.


The provisions of the current law were enacted after the Freedom Industries MCHC leak in 2014 that affected the drinking water for much of the Kanawha River Valley.


The provisions of the bill would have eased inspection requirements of certain storage tanks in the zone of critical concern for public surface water supply sources and public surface water influenced groundwater supply sources.


It is the area measured 1,000 feet horizontally from each bank of the principal stream and 500 feet horizontally from each bank of the tributaries draining into the principal stream. The zone is concerned critically important to public health to warrant detailed scrutiny because of its proximity to the surface water intake and the intake’s susceptibility to potential contaminants within that corridor.


After hearing from several witnesses, including Delegate John Kelly, the bills lead sponsor, Charlie Burd Executive Director of the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia, Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Scott Mandirola, Deputy Secretary for External Affairs, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the committee voted to table the bill.


Tabling a bill suspends consideration until a member of the Committee moves to remove the bill from the table and a majority of the membership of the committee agrees.



Public Employee Grievances



After drama, Committee narrowly OKs bill


The House Judiciary Committee had some drama Monday, when it voted down SB230. But that wasn’t the final decision.


The bill makes changes to the public employees’ grievance procedure. A motion was made to reconsider the vote that can only be made by a member who voted on the prevailing side, which was rejection of the bill. The motion to reconsider was adopted by a voice vote.


Then the motion before the committee was to favorably report the bill. A motion to adjourn followed.


When the meeting began again on Tuesday, Chairman Moore Capito of Kanawha County said there was a pending motion to reconsider SB230. A Delegate pointed out that a motion to adjourn eliminates pending motions, according to Jefferson’s Rules.


Chairman Capito said he had consulted with the House Parliamentarian and with Speaker Hanshaw, and that is the correct procedure.


Delegate Chad Lovejoy of Cabell County said, “Let’s go back to yesterday.”


He said corrections officers and civilian employees of the State Police will be “collateral damage” if the bill passes. He urged a no vote.


Delegate Joey Garcia of Marion County concurred, noting that a Delegate who spoke in favor of the bill used the phrase “just $1,000.”


“To the normal person in this state, that’s a lot of money. I urge rejection,” Garcia said.


The Delegate from Mingo County further discussed one of the main bones of contention in the bill, the requirement that the prevailing party at level three may recover attorney’s fees and costs not to exceed $1,000.


He called it a “loser-pay” system that will have a chilling effect on filing legitimate grievances. He invited the committee to, “Come visit some of my constituents in Mingo County; $1,000 is a lot of money.”


He noted the Legislature passed an Intermediate Court of Appeals last year with a pricetag of $7.2 million, and now the Committee is worried about the State’s cost of a Level 3 grievance.


After failing to pass on Monday, the bill passed on a roll-call vote of 13-12.



Court Appointments



Senate passes legislation changing timeline


Members of the state Senate passed a bill on Tuesday, opening a door for an upcoming appointment to the state Supreme Court to remain in place until the 2024 election.


HB4785 makes a small change to say the Governor’s appointment would stand if the unexpired term is no more than three years. The bill applies to a range of judicial vacancies ranging from the local level to West Virginia’s highest court.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.



Public Education



Lawmakers OK more support in early grades


The Senate Education Committee advanced two bills meant to provide greater support for students in early grades.


Each bill already passed the House of Delegates.


Senators on the Education Committee considered and advanced with no discussion a bill that would put teaching assistants into more first-grade classrooms. The bill also goes to Senate Finance.


An original version of HB4467 would have added assistants to most first- and second-grade classrooms in West Virginia. The version that eventually passed the House of Delegates reels that back to a pilot program covering about 300 first-grade classrooms. The program also has a sunset provision of three years.


The financial impact is expected to be a little more than $12 million a year.


The Senate Education Committee advanced a bill meant to lay out more support for third-graders before they move up to fourth grade. The bill also goes to Senate Finance.


HB4510 establishes a goal of ensuring third-grade students are competent in reading and math before they move to fourth grade.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






House gives approval to spending bill


The West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday advanced a state budget proposal that includes personal income tax cuts and the reinstatement of a film tax credit that have yet to be fully addressed in the Senate.


Delegates passed the budget on a 93-2 vote. It now goes back to the Senate.


Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s $4.65 budget proposal for the fiscal year starting in July calls for a 1.4% increase, or $65.5 million, in spending. Justice said the budget is essentially flat for the fourth straight year. The Senate budget bill approved last week mirrors Justice’s price tag.


Click here to read more from the Associated Press.



Motorsports Day



Race car engines roar at Capitol


From the House Rotunda to one Capitol entrance, the inaugural West Virginia Motorsports Day at the Capitol attracted attention to the enthusiasts and industry in the state.


Highlighted by the roaring motor of the 1967 AHRA World Championship “Hundley and Boggs” Top Fuel Dragster, which was started at 10 a.m. outside the Capitol, the day met the goal of organizer Senator Mark Maynard. R-Wayne.


“I wanted to showcase what West Virginia has to offer in motorsports,” Senator Mark Maynard of Wayne County said.


Click here to read more from West Virginia Press Association Sharing.




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.



Legislative Calendar




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for the full session calendar

of the 85th West Virginia Legislature.



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Glossary of Terms


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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