From The Well

Day 58


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.






Senate panel OKs reallocation measure


The Senate Judiciary Committee spent quite a bit of time Thursday before passing of HB2910, which would modify the allowable number of magistrates per county.


The current minimum per county is two, and that number does not change. Senator Mark Maynard of Wayne successfully amended the bill by adding a potential of 10 more magistrates if needed, raising the maximum from 160 magistrates to 170 if a Supreme Court study shows they are needed.


Currently, West Virginia has 158 magistrates. The bill keeps that number but reallocates them.



County Pay Raises



House passes bill providing 10% increases


The House of Delegates Thursday passed SB172, providing a 10% compensation increase for all elected county officials. After no discussion or debate Thursday, the vote was 89-8.


Voting against the bill were: Delegates John Doyle (a candidate for Jefferson County Commission), Danny Hamrick, Laura Kimble, Shannon Kimes, John Mandt, Pat McGeehan, Tony Paynter (a candidate for Circuit Clerk), and Chris Pritt.



Person in Position of Trust



Senate panel hears about abuse of children


Testimony heard in the House of Delegates was repeated Thursday for the Senate Judiciary Committee for the passage of a strike-and-insert amendment for HB4600, making it a felony for a “Person in a Position of Trust” to assault, batter, or verbally abuse a child or neglect to report abuse they witness.


The legislation stems in part from abuse that occurred in a special-needs classroom at Holz Elementary in Charleston.


Craig Bowden, parent of a disabled child who was abused, told the committee, “These children do not understand evil. They were looked at as objects more than human beings.”


He further explained that another form of abuse was mistreating one child as an example to create fear among the others.


Chairman Charles Trump emotionally said, “I’m so sorry.”


Another parent whose disabled son was also in Holz Elementary emphasized that training for prosecutors, judges, and others is needed so they can be equipped to handle cases of abused disabled children. She emphasized the need for video in special-needs classrooms.



Foster Care



Administration sees way to grant pay raises


The state Senate is advancing a foster care bill that drops a bigger pay raise boost for Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services workers, but state leaders believe they’ve settled on a different way to provide the raises.


That discussion occurred during the Senate Finance Committee Thursday morning.


Representatives of the Justice administration appeared before the committee and expressed confidence that the Department of Health and Human Resources will have the flexibility to provide the raises without needing for them to be passed in a bill.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.



Flying Under the Influence



Airplane alcohol bill in line for clean-up


The Senate Judiciary Counsel on Thursday explained to the Committee that there are several clean-up problems with HB4846, relating to flying under the influence and other aviation offenses.


Counsel said the bill needs a strike-and-insert amendment, and the title is “fatally flawed.” The federal government relies on state and local government to deal with problems of alcohol and substance abuse while flying.


A .04% blood-alcohol content is the level for flying, while driving is .08%. It is federally required legislation, but the title and amendments are not ready yet.


Rita Pauley, Counsel for the Division of Highways, concurred with Chairman Charles Trump that flying under the influence already is a crime under federal law, but the FAA requires the state to set the standard on limits. The FAA also needs state law enforcement to put the information on the record. The FAA then uses that information.


To have time to prepare a clean-up strike-and-insert amendment and title amendment, the bill will be reported to the floor with no recommendation and referred back to Senate Judiciary.



Missing Persons



Senate Committee OKs ‘Brenda’s Law’


“Brenda’s Law” will be created by HB4847, generally relating to missing persons.


The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a strike-and-insert amendment that requires a law enforcement agency to turn over information to the State Police and assess risk level.


All information is to be submitted to data bases immediately.


A missing person age 75 and older is considered high risk.


Brenda was an 81-year-old woman traveling with her daughter. They wrecked in a remote location. The allegation and impetus for the bill was that State Police did not immediately investigate. Brenda was found deceased four days after the wreck, but she initially survived the wreck for about two days.



Pecuniary Interests



Committee debates officials’ buying rules


Revising the pecuniary interests of county and district officers, teachers, and school officials in contracts for goods was the controversial subject of HB4642.


As explained Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Counsel, the bill would provide an exception to prohibitions of pecuniary interest on contracts as long as they are competitively bid and lowest cost is a criterion.


The bill does not give an exception for the contracting of services.


Senator Mike Romano of Harrison County asked, “So we’re going to let folks employed by a governmental entity bid on stuff? Why?”


Counsel did not know the catalyst for the bill.


Romano continued, “I’m taken aback. There’s an appearance of impropriety.”


Senator David Stover of Wyoming County said there are already ethics opinions that allow the practice if the goods or services are not available anywhere in the county or within a reasonable distance.


He gave an example of water service delivery that a county commissioner provided to the courthouse before he became a commissioner. Because it was the only service of that type in the county, the Ethics Commission approved its continuation.


Once again, the Committee did what Chairman Charles Trump referred to as a “boomerang.” Members voted to report the bill to the floor, read it a first time, and refer it back to committee to have time to check ethics opinions.



Senate Judiciary Notes




Vertiports were the subject of a strike-and-insert amendment for HB4827, which the Senate Judiciary Committee passed quickly on Thursday.


The bill relates to the promotion and development of public-use vertiports, which are defined in the bill from an international standard. The bill requires every vertiport to comply with FAA standards, and a political subdivision cannot prohibit them through zoning.


Senator Mike Romano of Harrison County asked whether the bill prevents monopolies by any one company, and Counsel responded that it is the express intent of the bill.


Advanced Air Mobility Aircraft

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday quickly passed a strike-and-insert amendment for HB4667. It came from the Senate Economic Development Committee and was significantly changed from the House version.


A new council, the West Virginia Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Advisory Council, is created within the Department of Economic Development. Duties and membership of the Council are established. The bill also imposes a prohibition on county, city, or municipality restrictions on advanced air mobility aircraft.


Consumer Protection 

As its last act of a lengthy meeting, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SCR Originating No. 4, requesting a study of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.






House bill evolves as adjournment nears


A priority bill for the West Virginia House of Delegates dealing with broadband expansion came under scrutiny Wednesday from a Senate committee.


The Senate Economic Development Committee recommended HB4001, relating generally to broadband, for passage although the bill still must go through the Senate Finance Committee and be placed before the Senate before the end of the session at midnight Saturday.


HB4001 has changed a good deal since introduced at the beginning of the session on Jan. 12 and taken up the next day by the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee. Originally a bill aimed at both broadband expansion and providing oversight for the Department of Economic Development, the oversight commission created in the bill was stripped out.


Click here to read more from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.



Unemployment Fraud



House OKs unit to detect fake claims


The House of Delegates passed a bill in response to millions of dollars of unemployment fraud identified during the covid-19 pandemic.


That fraud occurred nationwide and was attributed to crime organizations that were using stolen identity information to apply for benefits.


Delegates passed the bill on a 92-2 vote. It goes back to the state Senate, which has already voted in favor of the bill.


SB543 authorizes the state’s unemployment commissioner to hire supervisory, legal, and investigative workers to spearhead inquiries when the unit has reasonable cause to believe fraud has occurred.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






State surpasses 6,500 deaths; cases decline


West Virginia has surpassed 6,500 COVID-19 related deaths.


The Department of Health and Human Resources added 56 deaths in Thursday’s report bringing the total number to 6,544.


Active cases fell again and now stand at 1,305.


There are 340 hospitalizations including 94 patients in the ICU and 50 patients on ventilators.


Tyler, Clay and Webster counties were in the “yellow” on the state’s COVID-19 County Alert Map. All other counties were in the “green,” indicating a low rate of spread.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






Opinion: Let’s drill, develop pipelines


Since he’s come into office, President Joe Biden’s administration has made America more dependent on foreign sources of energy.


He canceled Keystone XL and also halted permits for drilling on federal lands. His decision Tuesday to ban Russian oil imports was the right one, as Americans should not be fueling Putin’s war machine. But the president now should be kick-starting American energy production with the goal to end our reliance on foreign sources of energy.


What instead has he done? He’s announced a plan to seek energy from Venezuela — in essence trading one dictator for another. Is that leadership?


Here at home, we want gas and oil to be developed in the best way possible. It’s a fact that emissions from energy production in our nation have been falling for years. And

producing energy here also creates jobs and supports communities — particularly rural communities.


Click here to read more from the Wheeling Intelligencer.



Opinion: Market shines on solar power


Solar power is where the money is, judging the plans from power plant developers and operators.


According to the Energy Information Administration, power plant developers and operators expect to add 85 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity to the U.S. power grid this year and next. About 60% (51GW) of new generating capacity to the U.S. power grid this year and next. About 60% (51 GW) of which will be made up of solar power and battery storage permits. In some cases, the projects will combine both sources.


Click here to read more from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.




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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