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

February 6, 2023


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Senate Judiciary


Bill toughens penalties for attacking officers


The Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Monday recommended that the full Senate approve three bills. 

Senate Bill 490, referred to as the Patrol Officer Cassie Marie Johnson Memorial Act, honors a Charleston Police Officer who was slain while responding to a complaint about an illegally parked vehicle.


The bill creates a new criminal offense of knowingly and willfully obstructing a law enforcement officer engaged in his or her official duties, thereby causing the officer’s death. The new offense carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. The Committee adopted a committee substitute and sent the bill to the Senate floor.


Bill addresses human smuggling

The second bill creates a new criminal offense for human smuggling. Senate Bill 484 makes it illegal to knowingly and willfully smuggle an adult or minor or knowingly and willfully aid, assist, or abet in any manner in the smuggling of an adult or minor.


A conviction will result in a sentence of not less than three or more than 15 years, a fine of not more than $200,000, or both.


Human smuggling is the transporting or procuring the transportation of an individual for a fee or something of value with the knowledge that the individual transported or to be transported is not a citizen, a permanent resident alien, or otherwise lawfully in this state or entitled to be in this state.


The Committee adopted a committee substitute and recommended the bill for passage by the full Senate.


Legislation targets solicitation of minors

Finally, the Committee adopted a committee substitute to create a new criminal offense for soliciting a minor.


Senate Bill 532 makes it a felony for a person over the age of 18, who is a least four years older than the minor, to knowingly contact or communicate with or attempt to contact or communicate with the minor with the intent to persuade, lure, entice, solicit, or seduce the minor to either accompany the person or engage in illegal sexual conduct.


A conviction may result in a sentence of three to 15 years in prison, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. A second offense may result in a sentence of up 20 years in prison.


The Committee adopted a committee substitute and recommended the bill for passage.


House Judiciary


Bill designed to curtail distracted driving


The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee listened Monday to emotional testimony from the wife of a bicyclist who was killed by a distracted driver in Preston County. 

Committee members Mike Honaker of Greenbrier County and Steve Westfall of Jackson County both told the Committee the bill didn’t go far enough in educating the public about the dangers of distracted driving.


House Bill 2218, which passed the Committee, will further restrict motorists using a wireless communication device or stand-alone electronic device. The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.


Utility pole legislation advances

The Committee passed House Bill 2599, which creates an initiative requiring utility pole owners to provide information to the Department of Economic Development to map poles throughout West Virginia.


The bill also requires the Department of Economic Development to create maps with specific information about the poles and their locations.


The legislation was a part of House Bill 4001, which Governor Jim Justice vetoed last year.


Delegate Rick Hillenbrand of Hampshire County said the legislation is needed so utilities will stop charging parties each time a utility provides information.


Delegate Shawn Fluharty of Ohio County said he had numerous questions and not a lot of answers and therefore opposed the bill.


The Committee passed the bill on a voice vote. It now heads to the full House for consideration.


House Government Organization


Bill addresses fire department storage


The House of Delegates Government Organization adopted three bills on Monday. 

House Bill 2762 allows variances in state codes for buildings used solely for emergency equipment storage


The legislation directs the state Fire Commission to propose legislative rules relating to fire-sprinkler protection, specifically providing that buildings commencing construction after July 1, 2023, housing emergency fire, rescue, or ambulance services are protected “throughout” by approved automatic sprinkler systems.


Buildings housing only equipment — minus sleeping areas/quarters — would be exempt “regardless” of their construction date.


The House Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services Committee amended the bill to apply to buildings with less than 5,000 square feet.


Delegates speaking in favor of the legislation said it would cut expenses for fire departments, especially rural departments  a point made by Delegate Todd Longanacre of Greenbrier County, a bill sponsor who said the measure mostly applies to stored “nonemergency” fire department items, including vehicles used in parades, supplies, or storage items.


Some Delegates questioned whether the bill would lower department insurance coverage costs.


Veterans’ trades license applications receive attention

House Bill 2967 establishes expedited processing of professional or trades license applications for service members, veterans, and their spouses.


HB2967 had first reference to House Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security, which amended the measure to ensure that expedited processing “cannot supersede, or be taken to supersede or nullify, minimal period of licensed practice in good standing in another jurisdiction” to allow an applicant to bypass “(sitting) for and (passing) any applicable qualification or competency examinations” for a license to practice in West Virginia.


Coalfields development considered

House Bill 3130 establishes the West Virginia Coalfields Energy Research Economic Development Authority, which is a statutory public corporation.


The Authority is empowered to identify and work with industries, agencies, and nonprofit partners to advance efforts relating to “energy development, energy storage, and manufacturing.”


Those and other statutory Authority aims can be accomplished through collaboration with research institutions, businesses, nonprofits, and stakeholders “as appropriate.”


The Authority, however, is disallowed from taking ownership in “commercial energy facility or manufacturing” and from becoming a “market participant in any commercial energy or manufacturing facility.”


Through an expansive definition, Committee Counsel, in answer to a Delegate’s question, said “West Virginia Coalfields” can be construed to mean all counties in West Virginia, given a criterion that a county has economic activity “ancillary, or related to, the coal mining industry within its boundaries or otherwise been, or will be, significantly affected by the coal mining industry.”


The Authority is comprised of five members, four of whom would be appointed by the Governor The Secretary of the Department of Economic Development would be an ex-officio member. Authority members must reside in the state.


Other bill provisions exempt the Authority from taxation; require the Authority to make an annual report and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature and provides the Authority confidentiality with records dealing with “personal and financial information supplied to it or maintained by it concerning the sitting and development of energy projects and manufacturing.”


The Committee adopted an amendment prohibiting the Authority from “acquiring” property.

Chris Hamilton, President of the West Virginia Coal Association, told the Committee, “We are not aware of any project that needs this legislation. We probably frown on that.”


Mr. Hamilton said the Association has concerns about carbon sequestration or that the entity, receiving funds from out-of-state sources, could oppose timbering or support other endeavors contrary to use of state resources, such as coal.


House Education


State, federal school funding outlined


The House of Delegates Education Committee heard a presentation from the state Department of Education finance staff about state and federal funding for public schools. 

Samuel Pauley, School Operations Officer, provided a breakdown of the state’s Public School Support Program (PSSP) or state school aid formula (SAF).


He discussed how county boards of education are “divided” for some funding considerations based on population density that factors in counties’ square mileage and other information.


Mr. Pauley said county boards aren’t given or guaranteed 1,400 students for school aid formula purposes. Rather, counties with sparse populations receive allowances that for student “head counts” — actual enrollments — based on considerations aimed at ensuring county capacity or “additional resources” to provide students a “thorough and efficient” public education.


Regarding staff deployment, Mr. Pauley reiterated county boards are penalized if they use more than 5% of their formula allocation for school administrative positions.


He also said unless some statutory school personnel definitions are revised, county boards may not receive funds for specified personnel, including teaching assistants for earlier grades that some legislators see as key to increasing student achievement.


PSSP, which has been used with iterations since the 1970s, allows the state to fund basic steps for each school district, covering areas such as school personnel, transportation and fixed costs, offset by tax money a county board receives.


“The PSSP provides basic education needs to school districts,” Mr. Pauley said.

In answer to several questions, Mr. Pauley said county boards of education, as informed or recommended by county superintendents, make many local school funding decisions; they are augmented by being able to retain 15% of locally derived tax collections.


Delegate Todd Longanacre of Greenbrier County and other Delegates asked how county boards are held accountable for spending decisions.


Mr. Pauley said the ultimate arbiters may be county voters who do not like board members’ spending choices.


Delegate D. Roland Jennings of Preston County asked whether funds “lost” because of declining enrollment in a previous year could be “placed back” or considered for future school district funding streams. Mr. Pauley said the WVDE must respond to funding requests based on enrollment and similar considerations, although constituent groups could argue for bolstering funding based on “funds lost” because of enrollment declines.


Melanie Purkey, WVDE’s Federal Programs Officer, and Lauren Pauley, a director in that office, discussed federal funding, saying in comparison to state funds for school districts, school boards receive most federal funds as reimbursements based on criteria established by the federal government to meet program aims, especially socioeconomic considerations, such as poverty rates.


Ms. Pauley told the Committee the WVDE is helping county boards consider ways to “adjust to a large amount of funds going” away in 2024, namely three strands of federal funds that districts received in Covid pandemic moneys.


She referred to the loss of dollars as a “funding cliff,” noting school boards used some of the funds for staffing and, given the loss of those dollars combined with losses in enrollments, counties can expect to lay off school personnel.


The Committee also received a report from the Presidents of the state’s two statewide teacher associations about challenges school personnel face. They discussed ideas that participants offered during association forums. Those included better parental involvement in students’ schooling.



Military Records


Legislation broadens access to documents


The Senate Military Committee on Monday passed a committee substitute for Senate Bill 527, extending the right to receive copies or view, free of charge, military discharge papers in the office of the County Clerk to specified family members of veterans. Those documents are kept secure and access is limited by law. 

The bill would allow access to a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, or sibling,


Senator Jay Taylor of Taylor County asked whether there are any protections with regard to estranged family members. Senator Ryan Weld of Brooke County said there were people in the audience who could answer the question. “They look as if they might be County Clerks,” Senator Weld said.


Diana Cromley, Mason County Clerk, responded to questions, saying, “We do as much due diligence as we can to protect identities.”


She said the purpose behind the bill is based on her 30 years of experience as a Clerk. Many times, she said, a veteran cannot come in person to get the papers. Clerks and staff are currently in the position of having to deny a family member who has requested a discharge record, known as DD 214, or a report of separation from active military duty.


County Clerk Cromley added that it is not mandatory for those records to be filed with the County Clerk. It is up to the individual to file them for safekeeping.




Legislation would alter voting calendar


Senator Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County is lead sponsor on a pair of bills that would create an exclusive primary election for the presidency of the United States and move the state primary election to August. 

Senate Bill 218 would create a presidential preference primary election that would be held on the second Tuesday of February. Oliverio said holding the primary election at the same time as nearby states would make West Virginia more relevant to candidates and a manageable stop on the campaign trail.


“Try to align them with whatever Ohio and Pennsylvania are doing,” Senator Oliverio said. “That way, presidential candidates will be able to come into the region and spend time in West Virginia. I think that will be important for our state long-term.”


Senate Bill 152 would move the state primary election from May to August.


Click here to read more from WVMetronews.


Footnote for Readers


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2023 Legislative Session 

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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Some information in this update is collected from the WV Legislature’s Daily/Weekly Blogs.



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