|The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee approved 10 bills on Saturday.
House Bill 3156 raises compensation rates for panels of attorneys.
For proceedings involving felonies, compensation for representing indigent clients is increased from $3,000 to $4,500. Accordingly, expenses for representing clients charged with felonies would see compensation increased from $1,500 to $2,500. Courts can set higher compensation, based on good cause, in both situations.
Expenses for investigative services is moved from $30 to $40. If a case is dismissed for a not guilty finding for a criminal charge, attorneys will be reimbursed $1,000 for expungement services with a maximum of $500 for expenses unless the court approves higher reimbursements based on good cause.
Lawyers serving as counsel for indigent clients said the bill will address the current practice of asking courts to provide increased compensation.
‘Deliberate Intent’ statute amended
House Bill 3270 amends the Workers Compensation “deliberate intent” statute It says the “maximum amount recoverable as compensatory damages for noneconomic loss may not exceed the higher of two times the economic damages before offset or $500,000 for each person, regardless of the number of plaintiffs or the number of defendants or, in the case of wrongful death, regardless of the number of distributees.”
The amount, beginning January 1, 2024, would be subject to Consumer Price Index increases calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor, although the increase couldn’t exceed 150% of the figures HB3270 sets.
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Bill mandates liability insurance for child placement
House Bill 3439 requires a child-placing agency to obtain liability insurance in an amount of not less than $1 million per incident insuring the person or entity and every employee against loss from the liability imposed by law for damages arising from any error or omission in the provision of child-placement services.
The bill states child-placing agencies aren’t liable for civil damages or injuries more than the amounts for which the person or entity is insured unless the damages or injuries are intentionally or maliciously inflicted.
Most Committee debate focused on bill language, which says, “Any person or entity who fails to secure a policy of insurance before providing child placement services is not entitled to the limited liability.” An amendment to remove that language was defeated in a 12-7 division vote.
Amendment sponsors argued the language effectively undermined the bill’s intent. Some Delegates argued other laws wouldn’t prohibit litigation against placement agencies, and that courts could grant relief.
Other bills approved include:
· House Bill 3133 prohibits county commissions from establishing ordinances, rules, regulations, license requirements, or any other authorization of agricultural production operations that “contravene or is stricter than any state law or regulations for the purpose of the establishment, expansion, or continuation of agricultural businesses.” Existing ordinances are considered invalid and unenforceable to the extent they violate bill provisions While Committee debate focused on receipt of federal funds from storms or planning considerations in urban areas, the bill states its provisions don’t apply to federal law.
· House Bill 3146 seeks uniformity in state laws relating to public meetings during emergencies, such as the COVID pandemic, based on state laws regarding public meetings.
· House Bill 3354 allows municipalities and county commissions to combine and share services. The bill was amended so municipalities “may only arrest, convict and punish someone if they are in violation of a state law proscribing certain conduct with a firearm.” Moreover, based on another amendment, municipalities couldn’t regulate “combustibles,” including fireworks.
· House Bill 3360 authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to establish an Office of the Inspector General within Homeland Security to conduct and supervise investigations within Department units. According to Committee testimony, the approach codifies existing practice, ensuring “across agency authority” to conduct investigations, especially in high-profile situations.
· House Bill 3405 changes protective order extensions to one year except if judicial officials determine a protection order should be for a longer period.
· House Bill 3480 prohibits credit-reporting agencies receiving consumer financial information, based on a consumer’s line of credit application from financial institutions, from disclosing or selling consumer financial information without the consent of the consumer, except for processing the line=of-credit application. The state Attorney General is responsible for enforcing the act, although a committee amendment gives consumers the ability to bring personal legal action.
· House Bill 3500 permits regulated consumer lenders to permit employees to conduct certain business at locations other than the licensee’s designated office, although, among other bill provisions, “appropriate safeguards for licensee and consumer data, information, and records, including the use of secure virtual private networks where appropriate are maintained.”