From the Well





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.


86th West Virginia Legislature

January 17, 2023



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Governor Justice



COVID sidelines state’s chief executive


The Governor’s Office announced Tuesday evening that Governor Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID


“Late this afternoon, upon the sudden onset of symptoms, Governor Jim Justice immediately sought a COVID-19 test, and it came back positive,” the statement said. “The Governor, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, is experiencing mild symptoms and is isolating at home.”


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.






House Health votes to reshape department


The House Health and Human Resources Committee passed House Bill 2006 unanimously Tuesday by voice vote with a strike-and-insert amendment.


The purpose of the bill is to reorganize the Department of Health and Human Resources into three agencies that will be named the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Health Care Facilities. It is second-referenced to House Finance Committee.


Committee Counsel gave a brief history of previous attempts to reorganize the state’s largest agency, including a bill from 2022 that divided the agency into two departments but was vetoed by the Governor.


The three proposed departments are still to work together with a chief operating officer (COO), and each will have a Cabinet Secretary. The bill sets dates for implementation of dividing all the various bureaus of DHHR into the three newly created agencies.


The Office of the Inspector General will be unanimously appointed by the State Auditor, Treasurer, and Governor. That position will set the budget of the office and it cannot be changed by the Secretary of Health.


The Department of Health Facilities will be implemented on July 1, 2023, and will be exempt from the state’s personnel, purchasing, and real estate divisions. Its employees will not be covered by civil service.

Committee Counsel highlighted the changes from the introduced bill for the committee members. Each department will be headed by a Cabinet Secretary appointed by the Governor, and there are several changes to the authority of the Secretary. Funding is provided for the offices of the Secretaries and their staffs.


Another change from the introduced bill is that Child Welfare Services will be under the Bureau of Social Services.


Delegate Mike Pushkin of Kanawha County asked, “Why is the Office of Drug Control Policy put into the Department of Human Services?”


Chairman Amy Summers responded, “I think it’s because it provides services. It’s not regulatory in nature.”


Administrative functions, such as payroll, will be shared among the three Departments.

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach of Cabell County, a medical doctor, spoke in favor of the bill, noting it’s been years in the making. He expressed support for the more manageable sizes of the departments.


“This is long overdue,” Delegate Rohrbach said.


Delelgate Pushkin also spoke in support of the bill, stating, “This is a good first step. Three Secretaries should improve the services and outcomes.”


Vice Chair Heather Tully added, “This bill is necessary to get the departments functional.”



Tax Reform



House pushes bill; Senate asks questions


Debate over Governor Jim Justice’s proposal to cut personal income taxes by half over three years is on maximum.


The House of Delegates moved the bill toward passage in that chamber, WVMetroNews reported. Click here to read more.


Senators quizzed Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy, and the Governor went on Fox News this week in a national cable news appearance that included a pitch for the proposal.


Despite the flurry of activity, it’s not clear whether the tax bill will get through the legislative process intact.


Members of the state Senate’s Republican majority have questions about how the finances would work, and senators are also lined up to push their own vision of a strategic tax cut.


“I think we’re going to take a hard look at the governor’s tax plan. We want to pass tax reform that is responsible and that will have an economic benefit for the state,” Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld of Brooke County said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”



Health Care



Tax credit considered to attract physicians


The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday passed committee substitute legislation for Senate Bill 85, which creates a new article to establish a tax credit for physicians who locate in West Virginia to practice.


The committee substitute provides clarifications to residency requirements and repayments.


The bill describes the criteria for the tax credit, including residency requirements, and establishes education requirements and time limits to claim the tax credit. The Tax Commissioner is given authority to establish rules.


The fiscal note from the Department of Revenue says that providing up to 100% of income credit for up to three years could result in a loss of $4 million in revenue in 2025 and grow to $12 million per year, along with additional administrative costs.


Senator Amy Grady of Mason County asked committee counsel whether the tax credit would exclude physicians who reside in a border state but practice in West Virginia. Counsel responded that at this time it would, but the rules could further address residency requirements.



Panel acts to bolster exams after assaults


The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday passed a committee substitute for Senate Bill 89, which would require hospitals to staff qualified health care providers to conduct sexual assault forensic examinations and to collect sexual assault forensic examination kits.


The committee substitute revises some definitions and clarifies that staffing can be on call and available rather than at the hospital at all hours of operation. The bill has an internal effective date of July 1, 2024, to allow time for preparation It applies only to hospitals with emergency departments.


Senator Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County asked Committee Counsel whether West Virginia has adequate coverage with hospitals that have emergency departments. She was assured those hospitals are fairly evenly distributed throughout the state.


Senator Robert Plymale of Wayne County asked, “Is law enforcement involved?”


Nancy Hoffman, Chair of the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Commission, responded that law enforcement is brought in after the kit is collected. The victim has the option of reporting the assault to law enforcement. Kits are stored at a Marshall University facility for those who choose not to report the assault immediately, and the kits can be reactivated for investigation.


“All kits tested go to the State Police Crime Lab and are entered into CODIS,” said Ms. Hoffman, noting that it is a collaborative process in which medical personnel collect and law enforcement investigate.

Ms. Hoffman said concerns include having the infrastructure in place to implement the bill.


“If a kit is collected, there’s a 50-50 chance of evidence being collected well,” Ms. Hoffman said, describing current conditions and the need for specialized training.


Chairman Mike Maroney of Marshall County, a medical doctor, told the committee that the bill has been introduced for three years now, but it was hard to implement during a nursing shortage. The committee substitute broadens the language and refers to available health care providers rather than limiting those who can perform the exams to nurses and physicians.



Public Safety



Bill outlines coverage for injured, ill troopers


Senate Bill 26 would require the West Virginia State Police to provide medical and hospital coverage for troopers who suffer injuries or illnesses while performing services in the line of duty.


On Tuesday, Counsel told the Senate Government Organization Committee that current law under West Virginia Code § 15-2-10 “provides the Superintendent of the State Police with the discretionary power to, at the state’s expense, contract and furnish medical hospital services for State Police officers who are injured during their official duty for causes beyond their control.”


The Superintendent decides whether an injury occurred during the line of duty, and he or she retains the right of subrogation in any civil action or settlement brought by an injured officer. To that end, the Superintendent may initiate an action on the officer’s behalf to cover the cost of medical care. Further, Counsel explained that “all reimbursements from third parties are then put into a special revenue account which is used solely to defray the costs of the medical care.”


SB26 only amends one portion of the current statute. The Superintendent now would be required to contract and furnish medical hospital services for injured troopers opposed to maintaining the discretionary power to do so.


Senator Mike Stuart of Kanawha County asked whether there are specific instances when medical care was not provided to injured troopers. Counsel could not recall a specific instance but reaffirmed that the bill was aiming to prevent a prospective problem.


Senator Bill Hamilton of Upshur County asked whether internal investigations were conducted when someone was injured to determine whether it occurred in the line of duty. Major Shallon Oglesby with the State Police explained that supervisors investigate incidents, most of which consist of witness statements, photographs, and follow-ups with medical professionals.


Senator Mike Woelfel of Cabell County concluded by asking whether Major Oglesby whether the Superintendent is in favor of the bill. She said the Superintendent does not support replacing the discretionary power with the proposed requirement.


The bill was laid over.



Bill directs municipal fire marshals


The Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved Senate Bill 65 on Tuesday, authorizing a municipal fire marshal to respond to requests from any federal law-enforcement officer, state police officer, natural resources police officer, or any county or municipal law-enforcement officer for assistance.


Under the bill, a municipal fire marshal responding to the request will work under the requesting officer’s direct supervision.


The bill will now go to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.






Senate panel works to protect students


The Senate Education Committee approved two bills on Tuesday.


The first measure, Senate Bill 187, would create a new statutory criminal offense regarding sexual contact with, sexual intrusion, or sexual abuse of students by a school employee.


Felony Offense

The bill establishes a felony for any teacher, principal, counselor, coach, or other employee of private or public elementary or secondary schools to engage in “sexual intercourse, sexual intrusion, or sexual contact … with any student enrolled in such school regardless of the age of said student.”


A school employee cannot use student consent as a defense or can the school employee use as his or defense the fact the act may have occurred off school property or during a school function.


The felony offense is separate from other applicable offenses under code and carries a penalty for those convicted of the offense of one to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.


Permanent Forfeiture

The bill also includes a provision relating to the permanent forfeiture of any teaching or other certificate.

The committee substitute provides clarifying language about the terms private or public schools and references laws governing revocation or suspension of school employee certificates.

Senate Education Vice Chairman Charles Clements of Wetzel County sponsored the measure, which he said involved students who were over age 18.


Senator Clements said the measure is needed to safeguard students.


“These people are in a position of trust over young people,” he said.


Senate Bill 187 has a second reference to Senate Judiciary.

Senate Bill 124

The Committee also adopted Senate Bill 124, whose provisions would authorize a child sexual abuse and sexual violence prevention program and in-service training in child sexual abuse prevention.


Annual age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention would be required in grades three through six and include information about counseling and resources for children who are sexually abused.


Dating Violence Prevention

Students in grades seven through 12 would be required to receive age-appropriate instruction in “dating violence prevention education and sexual violence prevention, which would include instruction in dating violence warning signs and characteristics of healthy relationships.”


The state Board of Education is authorized to provide links on its website for county boards to use in developing curricula that address dating violence and sexual violence prevention.


For grades three through six, parents could opt to have students excused from the instruction, and parents are permitted to examine materials used in the grades seven through twelve curricula for dating violence and sexual violence prevention.



Persons employed by county boards are required to participate in in-service training relating to child abuse prevention and violence and the “promotion of positive youth development.”


The training, which school nurses, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, or administrators must complete every five years following an initial training, is to be developed by the State Board and is to count toward professional development required by State Board policy.


Senator Mike Woelfel of Cabell County sponsored the bill.



Superintendent promotes student literacy


Prioritizing reading, writing, math in early grades will serve as the foundation for comprehensive student literacy, State Schools Superintendent David L. Roach told the House Education Committee on Monday.


Superintendent Roach called the approach simple and told Delegates the state Board of Education’s “Ready. Read, Write, West Virginia” initiative prioritizes reading, writing, and math at the elementary level to build a solid foundation for the youngest learners.


At the secondary level, he said, teachers will continue to build and enhance skills in reading and math to ensure students can confidently pursue educational opportunities or enter the workforce or military upon graduation.


Moreover, Roach said, student academic deficiencies, the focus of recent reports concerning National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores, are not unique to West Virginia and may be traced to lesser emphasis on phonics in teaching reading to students in early grades.


Reading is Focus

“I want all children to be able to read. That’s our vision — goal,” Superintendent Roach said, adding it would result in a skilled workforce.


Citing his tenure as a school principal, Superintendent Roach said lack of reading skills not only compounds learning, which may result in students being promoted to higher grades without grasping advancing curricula, but also may lead to behavioral problems because students “can’t perform; can’t read and write.”


Superintendent Roach said socioeconomic circumstances also may be a factor if a student falls behind in reading because parents may not be able to afford to offer tutoring.


He also said student literacy in West Virginia must concern policymakers at all levels of government and various stakeholders.


Communities in Schools

Communities in Schools (CIS) is an example of ensuring community involvement in schooling, Superintendent Roach said. CIS, an initiative of First Lady Cathy Justice, seeks to involve community agencies in efforts to meet varying student needs based on building relations with businesses, volunteers, and agencies at the local level.


Superintendent Roach said he expects the state’s 55 counties will be involved in CIS by the start of the next school year. He cited statistics that said the program results in student academic achievement, better student discipline, and students better engaged and wanting to stay in school.


Superintendent Roach, in response to questions from Delegates, said local officials, especially county superintendents, are key to implementing the initiative.


“It’s up to superintendents to take hold with and run with (the state Board literacy initiative). I can’t honestly dictate anything.”


Key Components

Superintendent Roach said “Ready. Read, Write, West Virginia” components include:


·     Professional educator staff development will be enhanced through supplying both teachers and parents with videos that outline effective reading strategies. Given shortages of substitute teachers, Roach said the approach will allow teachers enhanced training to implement reading strategies.

·     Comprehensive use of Algebra One as a diagnostic to determine areas of improvement in math curricula.

·     Educators’ presentation of curricula that will result in greater student success with key emphases on curricular content.

·     Use of a simulated workforce approach and enhanced emphases on career/technical education in middle grades, when combined with the state’s literacy focus, will provide students greater preparation for post-high school careers.

·     Teacher assistants can prove depth to the initiative — a goal of the House of Delegates, according to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw of Clay County.


While Superintendent Roach said he “trusts teachers” to become engaged in efforts to achieve literacy objectives, school principals and county superintendents have the ability to place teachers who don’t fully engage in the initiative with an improvement plan. If the teacher doesn’t comply with the plan, it could result in consequences applied locally, which could include dismissal.


Literacy: New Normal

The state superintendent said the emphasis on literacy will become “the new normal for us.”

He urged all stakeholders to partner with the state Board, including legislators. He said the initiative requires “leadership in everyone.” He said the Board was seeking partners and schools can’t succeed without legislators.


“We know it all begins with literacy. Students who cannot read become adults who will struggle to succeed,” Superintendent Roach said. “Literacy and reading have an immeasurable impact. We all must work together to make literacy a priority.


“…It must be a part of our culture, as county boards of education, as individual schools, local communities, and the state as a whole,” he said.


Superintendent Roach said a stakeholder group will meet January 23, and that greater detail regarding implementing the state Board imitative will be presented to policymakers following that meeting. From there, with reading as the “foundation,” Roach said, “Math is second. Its’ coming. It just has to take a second seat until spring.”


In answer to a Delegate who inquired about restoring trust in public education, Superintendent Roach said the focus on reading, writing, and math will inspire greater public trust, which he said is built on enhanced public school student performance.



HEPC called ‘facilitative,’ not centralized


Matt Turner, Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, discussed the state’s system of higher education governance for members of the House Education Committee on Monday.


Mr. Turner, presenting for Chancellor Sarah Armstrong, told Delegates the state’s public higher education system includes 12 campuses, as well as the state’s Community and Technical College System.


He described the HEPC’s role as “facilitative” rather than centralized, saying the Commission supports students and higher education institutions in various ways, including policy and planning, research, student affairs, and administrative services.


He also noted boards of governors help advise and shape institutional functioning locally.


The state’s higher education system is “robust” in terms of data collection, which Turner said guides policies, programming and services.

Another strength of West Virginia’s approach to higher education is pooling services to aid and assist institutions, which means “honoring resources.”


Mr. Turner described various challenges facing higher education institutions, saying, “Our real challenge is getting people to apply for (student aid).”


He noted numerous programs and scholarships are available to students.


Texting and other means are being used to create awareness of funds that students can secure for schooling.


Among other topics covered in his presentation, Mr. Turner said:


·     Cooperation between public schools and higher education institutions is “closer” than in the past and is exemplified by clearer communications. While he said the COVID pandemic may be one factor in improved kindergarten-12 and higher education institutions’ working relations, the systems realize the value of collaboration.


·     The state’s college-going rate remains one of the lowest in the nation, although efforts are being directed at increasing the rate. Mr. Turner cited Chancellor Tucker’s goal of creating a pilot program to help students acquire dual credits based on taking courses that count both toward high school and college credits. He noted West Virginia is one of the few states that doesn’t supply money to aid students who enroll in dual-credit courses. He noted Chancellor Tucker said dual-credit courses would prove advantageous to students, especially first-generation students enrolling in higher education programs.


·     In response to Delegate D. Roland Jennings of Preston County, Mr. Turner said students have access, including technology platforms and use of professors from other campuses to secure classes which address “course availability” for classes that may be taught less frequently.


·     House Education Vice Chairman Joe Statler of Monongalia County asked Mr. Turner to provide information about the “formula” that may be developed for higher education institutions to use in addressing deferred maintenance. Governor Jim Justice mentioned those funds in his State of the State.




Footnote for Readers



Access to some of the stories in From the Well may require a subscription to news outlets. Hartman Cosco Government Relations has no control over the terms and conditions that news outlets set to access content.






2023 Legislative Session


20th Day — January 30: Submission of Legislative Rule-Making Review bills due (WV Code §29A-3-12)


35th Day — February 14: Last day to introduce bills in the House. House Rule 91a does not apply to originating or supplementary appropriation bills, and does not apply to Senate or House resolutions or concurrent resolutions.


41st Day — February 20: Last day to introduce bills in the Senate. Senate Rule 14 does not apply to originating or supplementary appropriation bills and does not apply to Senate or House resolutions or concurrent resolutions.


47th Day — February 26: Bills due out of committees in house of origin to ensure three full days for readings.


50th Day — March 1: Last day to consider bill on third reading in house of origin. Does not include budget or supplementary appropriation bills.


60th Day —  March 11: Adjournment at midnight.





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