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 7, 2023


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Senate Government Organization


Bill sets uniform voter registration deadline


The Senate Government Organization Committee on Tuesday quickly passed Senate Bill 234, which creates a uniform statewide deadline for electronically submitted voter registration. 

Under the bill, the registration deadline changes from “no later than close of business” to 11:59 p.m. on the final day of registration. Under existing law, voter registration closes on the 21st day before an election or on the first day thereafter that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.


Bill requires data entry in NCIC system

Committee substitute for Senate Bill 302, a one-sentence bill, would require West Virginia law enforcement agencies to index felony warrants with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).


The Senate Government Organization Committee passed the bill Tuesday after hearing from Kanawha County Chief Deputy Joe Crawford that it is “common-sense legislation.”


Deputy Crawford told the Committee that Kanawha County already enters all felony warrants into the national system that is housed in Clarksburg.


“It heightens awareness for officer safety,” Deputy Crawford said.


He provided data from Ohio, saying that 60% of its felony arrests were not entered into NCIC.


“We in West Virginia could stop someone from a neighboring state and not know there’s a felony warrant,” Deputy Crawford said.


Senator Mike Stuart of Kanawha County, lead sponsor of the bill, expressed hope that other states would start requiring it.


Committee Counsel said that the Department of Health and Human Resources requires an NCIC check of prospective foster care parents, noting that a loophole is created when states don’t enter information into the system.


Senate Health and Human Resources


Legislation clarifies Ombudsman’s powers


The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee adopted three bills on Tuesday. 

House Bill 3061 relates to the authority of the Foster Care Ombudsman.


A committee substitute clarifies reporting by the Ombudsman regarding critical incidents, such as child abuse allegations as well as the ability of the Ombudsman to determine matters regarding placement of foster care children based on allegations of child abuse.


Additionally, the bill amends existing law to establish statewide procedure to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints filed on behalf of a child who is subject to a “reported allegation of abuse and neglect, a child who has died or sustained a critical incident, a child in the juvenile justice system.”


The bill also requires additional reports and data to be provided about child abuse. It also has confidentiality provisions.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.


SB195 addresses school emergencies

Senate Bill 195 establishes the Ready-to-Use Glucagon Rescue Therapies for Schools Act. The bill addresses emergencies arising in schools with hypoglycemia reactions.


SB195 was amended so a school nurse may approve the treatment.


The measure has a second reference to Senate Education.


Legislation focuses on dental insurance

Senate Bill 290 applies to the medical loss ratio (MLR) to dental care. It defines MLR as “the minimum percentage of all premium funds collected by an insurer for dental insurance plans each year that must be spent on actual patient care rather than overhead costs, administration, and other expenses.”


According to Committee testimony, Massachusetts is the only state having made such a move.


Alex Macia, who represents Delta Dental, which he said had the largest share of dental insurance coverage participants in the state, said Bay State voters adopted MLR through a ballot initiative rather than legislation.


Karen Hunter, Counsel for the state Insurance Commission, said the legislation’s impact was hard to discern, but she noted the current MLR is about 75% and that it would be “a challenge” to meet the 85% threshold. She noted Massachusetts voters approved an 83% ratio.


Most Committee debate centered on why insureds aren’t availing themselves of dental coverage.


Mr. Macia said the reason may be dental insurance is “optional” and that insureds may wait until dental care expenses rise because of neglecting basic services, such as teeth cleanings that most insurance covers.


Ms. Hunter said insureds in rural areas may have access to fewer providers.




Legislation updates development act


The House of Delegates Economic Development and Tourism Committee recommended on Tuesday that House Bill 3168 be passed. The bill seeks to update and modernize the West Virginia Tourism Development Act by ensuring that investment in West Virginia tourism is competitive and accessible long term. 

In HB3168, the definition of tourism was changed to delete the exclusion of projects owned or managed by the same company within a 10-mile radius. Further, language has been added to clarify the suggestive criteria for approval or denial of a project as being within the full discretion of the Department of Economic Development.


HB3168 also clarifies that projects must be expected to produce sufficient revenue within 100 days of opening, and it extends an applicable tax credit from 10 to 15 years with an additional 10-year term added.


The Committee referred the bill to the Committee on Finance.


Senate Judiciary


Bill seeks to clarify grassroots lobbying


The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 508 after a lively discussion focused on clarifying what exactly grassroots lobbying is and is not. 

The bill’s purpose is to clarify reporting thresholds and donor disclosure requirements for the purposes of grassroots lobbying expenditures as regulated by the West Virginia Ethics Commission.


Current law requires a grassroots lobbyist to register with the State Ethics Commission if the lobbyist spends $100 per month or $500 over three months. The bill increases the threshold to $1,000.


Counsel told the committee, “There is robust tradition allowing for anonymous political speech,” citing the Federalist papers as an example. He further explained that grassroots is a “catch-all” category for lobbyist registration with the Ethics Commission.


Senator Mike Woelfel of Cabell County asked Counsel whether the bill would shroud more dark money in secrecy. Counsel responded that it did provide more room for anonymous political speech


“Explain that to me,” Senator Woelfel said. Counsel replied that this is a catch-all that applies when other regulations do not apply.


“My impression is that this will be used by Republicans against Republicans,” Senator Woelfel said.


Chairman Charles Trump of Morgan County asked Julie Archer of the Citizens Action Group to speak to the bill, explaining that he associates that organization with grassroots lobbying. He asked Ms. Archer for her thoughts on the bill, and she responded, “The more transparency, the better.”


Ms. Archer offered an explanation about the difference between grassroots lobbying and direct lobbying.


“I’m a lobbyist. A grassroots organization is targeting the public. Entities are spending money to get the public to influence positions on legislation,” said Ms. Archer


Legislation focuses on expenditures, communications

Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 516 provided a challenge to the Senate Judiciary Committee in understanding independent expenditures and electioneering communications and their thresholds for disclosure with the Secretary of State.


After lengthy discussion, the Committee passed SB516, which would clarify reporting thresholds and donor disclosure requirements for purposes of making contributions to membership organization political action committees, independent expenditures, and electioneering communications.


The bill provides a definition of a membership organization political action committee.


“This makes it clear that not all membership organizations are political action committees,” said Committee Counsel, noting it is modeled after a Secretary of State rule, but it is not in statute.


Richie Heath, representing People United for Privacy, attempted to explain the distinction of a membership organization and membership organization PAC and the distinction between electioneering, independent expenditures, and electioneering communications that does include the mention of a candidates’ name.


“I wish I could say that clears it all up,” said Chairman Trump after the explanation.


Mr. Heath pointed out that anyone can engage in electioneering communications.


“It’s not confined to a membership organization,” he said.


Senator Bill Hamilton of Upshur County proposed an amendment to require all contributions to membership organizations be disclosed. In support of his amendment, he said all candidates must disclose every campaign contributor. The amendment failed after discussion about the effect it might have on membership organizations.


SB187 targets school employee behavior

A committee substitute for Senate Bill 187 adds a new section to create a felony offense for any public or private school teacher, counselor, coach, or other employee who engages in sexual intercourse, sexual intrusion, or sexual contact with any enrolled student regardless of age.


Counsel explained that consent or an incident that occurs off of school property is not a defense.


Penalty includes incarceration for not less than one or more than five years and a fine of up to $5,000. A conviction results in the forfeiture of teaching or any related certification.


Senator Ryan Weld of Brooke County proposed an amendment to add volunteers at a school to the list of those school personnel affected by the bill. The amendment was adopted.


Senate Education


Bill raises teachers’ pay in 2023-24


The Senate Education Committee adopted three bills Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 204 increases the salary of teachers for the 2023-24 school year to the equivalent of the rate paid teachers who have eight years of experience.


Teachers having zero to eight years’ experience will receive the same state minimum salary as teachers who have eight years’ experience, depending on their educational degree


Pay refers to the state’s statutory statewide pay scale.

According to sponsor Senator Charles Trump of Morgan County, SB208 addresses “a big problem we have in West Virginia — our (teacher) vacancy rate.” He said competition from other states fuels the problem. He mentioned that a public education official in his Eastern Panhandle senatorial district said,


“You’re in an arms race over here,” and fewer students are entering the teaching profession.


Senator Trump said the bill doesn’t fully address pay, citing projected costs of $100 million, although he maintains SB204, which has a $24 million fiscal note, “chips away” at the problem.


Senator Bob Plymale of Wayne County said comparing West Virginia’s pay with surrounding states is complicated because contiguous states don’t have a statewide pay scale or because calculations may include or omit benefits. He requested the Committee receive that data, although he wanted the bill to move to the Senate Finance Committee.


West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the Committee, in response to a question, that state-by-state salary comparisons can amount to comparing “apples to apples and/or apples to oranges.”


Mr. Lee also questioned whether the bill “eliminates eight years of incremental raises” — a point some Senators raised regarding its implementation.


Senator Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County asked Mr. Lee about “locality pay.” Citing a bill dealing with State Police locality pay last year, Mr. Lee said legislators find locality pay hard to support. He argued incentives such as tax credits — mentioned by Senator Laura Wakim Chapman of Ohio County — could aid in attracting and retaining teachers. Mr. Lee also mentioned loan forgiveness as an incentive.


Legislation protects whistleblowers

Senate Bill 519 applies facets of the state’s “whistleblower” law to school employees.


Under its provisions, employers couldn’t discharge, threaten, harass, discriminate, or retaliate against an employee by changing his or her pay or benefits if the employee, “acting on his or her own volition, or a person acting on behalf of or under the direction of the employee, makes a good-faith report, or is about to report, verbally or in writing, to the employer or appropriate authority, an instance of wrongdoing or waste.”


Additionally, employers couldn’t retaliate against employees subpoenaed to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry held by an appropriate authority or in a court. Further, employers could not deny a whistle-blower a promotion or other increase in compensation because of his or her status or actions as a whistle-blower.


Public employers convicted of violating a whistleblower’s rights could be removed from office.


Bill inserts teaching aide titles into code

House Bill 2602 adds “teaching assistants Aide V and Aide VI” to class titles of service personnel to code. The classifications were inadvertently omitted from legislation adopted last year.


Economic Development


House panel advances battery plant funding


Members of the House of Delegates Finance Committee on Monday advanced a $105 million supplemental appropriation to support Form Energy, which announced plans to build a cutting-edge battery plant in the Northern Panhandle. 

House Bill 2882, which calls for a transfer of money to the state Economic Development Project Fund, now goes to the full House for consideration.


The bill is a key piece of the financial structure for the Form Energy deal that Governor Jim Justice announced before Christmas. Form Energy has said it is putting up at least $350 million to get the project off the ground at the site of the old Weirton Steel in Hancock County.


Total public support by the state of West Virginia for the project is $290 million, including the piece delegates are advancing. Lawmakers are discussing whether that is a good investment by the state in a project promising at least 750 jobs with an energy-transition manufacturer.


Click here to read more from WVMetroNews.


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 

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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