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

August Special Session

Interim Meetings


August 10, 2023


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In This Edition


·     SPECIAL SESSION: During a special session this week, the West Virginia Legislature passed more than 40 bills, touching on the state’s corrections system, projects intended to spur economic growth, the way the state manages its vehicle tax credit, and funding for volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services. 

·     FOSTER CARE: Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health heard during interim meetings about problems the state is having with placing children in foster care.


·     BUREAU REDUCES VACANCIES: The state Bureau of Social Services has reduced its number of employee vacancies, the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health learned this week.


·     HOUSING, FOOD WEAKNESSES: Senior housing and food insecurity in West Virginia were the focus Monday during the Joint Committee on Children and Families.


·     DHHR RESTRUCTURING: The Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) heard updates about the planned division of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) into three parts and the planned changes in the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.


·     WINERY WOES: The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism heard winery owners testify about regulatory barriers they experience in West Virginia.


·     MASON HYDROGEN PROJECT: A project to produce clean hydrogen from natural gas is planned for Point Pleasant in Mason County. The facility will be designed to deposit greenhouse gas emissions beneath state-owned wildlife areas.


·     VALUE OF SCIENCE: An advocate for science told legislators that government investment can produce economic benefits.


·     THIRD GRADE SUCCESS: The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCRA) learned Sunday that the Third Grade Success Act will be effective in the 2026 school year, although this year’s class of kindergarten through third-grade students will benefit from various aspects of the legislation.


·     AB’S PLIGHT: The state’s Higher Education Commission Chancellor provided members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Educational Accountability about the financial plight of private Alderson Broaddus University, which is scheduled to close.


Special Session


Legislature Responds to Governor’s Call 


Responding this week to a call from Governor Jim Justice for a special session, the West Virginia Legislature passed more than 40 bills that address the state’s corrections system, fund projects intended to spur economic growth, revise the way the state handles its vehicle tax credit, and provide funds for volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services.The special session started Sunday in Charleston and ended Tuesday during the days the Legislature had scheduled August interim meetings. Their legislative action didn’t stop there, however.

Click here to read a summary from WVMetroNews. Here is a report from The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.


Foster Care


Lawmakers Hear About Shortcomings


The number of West Virginia children in residential care is increasing despite a federal mandate to reduce the number of children in facilities, some of whom are housed out of state.West Virginia Watch reported state data shows that 511 children currently are in residential care. State health department leadership told lawmakers Tuesday that the department developed a new plan to address issues in residential care. State child welfare data shows 280 children are in out-of-state residential care. Private providers, who will be affected by the changes, said they’re concerned about the proposal and called for a collaborative and transparent process.

There are 71% more children in state custody now than there were a decade ago, West Virginia Watch reported. Foster care experts have said family settings are best for children in care, but the state has struggled to recruit enough foster families for kids in care. In part, that has driven the department to turn to in- and out-of-state residential providers.

Additionally, there aren’t enough in-state providers that offer the kinds of specialized care.

Cammie Chapman, Deputy Secretary for Children and Adult Services, told members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health that the state health department is working to divert more children away from group care and connect them with community-based services.

Click here to read more from West Virginia Watch.


Social Services


Bureau Adds Workers to Its Ranks


The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health heard updates about staffing shortages in social services, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported.During the interim legislative session, Commissioner of the Bureau for Social Services Jeffrey Pack provided updates on hiring and retention initiatives in the department.

To encourage more people to apply, the agency is paying higher rates for Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties because of their location at a competitive border of the state.

“We have also implemented a number of workforce initiatives that have really borne some amazing fruit,” Pack said. “We implemented a pay differential or expanded a pay differential for the Eastern Panhandle, which has done a great deal to address our workforce shortages there.”

He said the Bureau’s vacancy rate has been reduced from 31 percent in January to 19 percent as of June 2023.

Click here to read more from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.


Children and Families


Housing, Food Security Problems Cited


Senior housing and food insecurity in West Virginia were the focus Monday at the Capitol before the Joint Committee on Children and Families, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported.Craig Petry, Executive Director of Community Works in West Virginia, told the Joint Committee that housing is a challenge and must improve to sustain economic development.

“Our strategy is to go into those communities and find how can we put a single-family home back on the lot and how do we bring back a building that’s been vacant and put business downstairs and four apartments upstairs — whatever we can do to bring some of that housing back into the communities,” Mr. Petry said.

Jeremiah Samples, Senior Advisor to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance, spent a portion of the meeting discussing food insecurity for children and seniors. He told members that West Virginia ranks third nationally and well above the national average in food assistance for children.

“West Virginia ranks first nationally in a metric that 213,000 households with children suffer from or actually gain access to food assistance,” Mr. Samples said.

Regarding the state’s senior population, Mr. Samples said a survey from both Meals on Wheels and the Bureau of Senior Services highlights the problem with hunger and food insecurity among seniors.

“It’s one that I would emphasize,” he said. “We are one of the oldest states in the country I think we’re the third oldest state per capita, behind Florida and Maine So it is a specific problem in West Virginia.”

Mr. Samples said the state, during the Covid pandemic, saw a dramatic increase in the amount of money the federal government provided through SNAP. West Virginia went from about $350 million to in excess of $800 million per year, he continued, and the state saw food insecurity numbers increase. He added that he believes there’s a disconnect, and the state needs to do a better job of understanding why citizens are struggling.

Mr. Samples said one aspect of the problem is that West Virginia residents don’t necessarily know what they are eligible to receive. He said a public-relations campaign could help.

“Not everyone is on social media. We need to meet these people where they are to make sure they’re aware of what they’re eligible to receive,” he said.


Health and Human Resources


Secretaries Discuss DHHR Restructuring


The Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) heard updates on Monday from the newly appointed Secretaries of the three agencies that will make up the restructured Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).During the 2023 regular legislative session, House Bill 2006 was enacted. It splits DHHR into the three new entities as of Jan. 1, 2024.

Dr. Sherri Young, current Interim Secretary of DHHR, will serve as Secretary of the newly created West Virginia Department of Health. Dr. Young was appointed by Governor Jim Justice at the beginning of July to serve as Interim DHHR Secretary through the end of the year.

Dr. Cynthia Persily will serve as Secretary of the newly created West Virginia Department of Human Services.

Finally, Michael Caruso will serve as Secretary of the newly created West Virginia Department of Health Facilities. All three appointees testified about the status of the efforts to restructure DHHR.

Dr. Young addressed LOCHHRA first and said the newly appointed Secretaries have been on the job just over a month and have focused on the Office of Shared Administration and are working on individual budgets.

She said transparency is one of the overarching goals of the transition process, and she invited legislators to tour the operations of the departments.

Dr. Young was asked several questions about issues at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), specifically staff problems and delays in issuing death certificates She described the difficulty in hiring pathologists given the few who graduate each year nationally. She noted that the OCME has recently hired a pathologist to start early next year. Click here to read more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Dr. Persily informed the Commission that the three administrators are working very closely together to develop the new Office of Shared Administration. She said their intent is to find ways to streamline services and restructure current services to be more efficient and effective as they separate DHHR into three departments.

Mr. Caruso said one of his initial goals is to put together financial statements for each of the state-owned health care facilities to evaluate the performance of each facility.


Development and Tourism


Winery Owners Cite Government Roadblocks


The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism heard a presentation Monday about West Virginia’s vineyard and winery industry.Mike Crate with the Rusty Nail Winery in Berkeley County and Chris Cosco with Wind Down Winery in Jefferson County spoke to the Committee. Mr. Crate said wineries in West Virginia, to allow the consumption of more than a sample-portion of wine on their property, are required to serve “preparable food.”

“It’s just me and my wife,” he said. “We have enough dealing with the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration) and the day-to-day operation.”

“To do what they can do in Virginia (a state that does not have the same ‘prepared-food’ requirement) under one license, we need three or four here in West Virginia,” Mr. Cosco added. “The costs are astronomical. Not only do you have the cost of bringing in new things for kitchens — sinks, and things like that — but you’ve got other code liabilities and other things to consider along those lines. When it comes to health and opening a restaurant as it were, these are just stumbling blocks along the way of a small business like ours.”

Click here to read more from The West Virginia Daily News.




Hydrogen Project Slated for Mason County


A new project is projected to produce clean hydrogen from natural gas in Point Pleasant in Mason County and deposit greenhouse gas emissions beneath state-owned wildlife areas, The Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported.Governor Jim Justice was set to announce on Wednesday that the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Commerce have signed a memorandum of understanding with Houston-based Fidelis New Energy for its proposed Mountaineer GigaSystem LLC in Point Pleasant. But in an updated media advisory Tuesday, the Governor’s Office said the announcement would be rescheduled for next week.

According to the memorandum of understanding dated July 6, Fidelis has acquired the option to purchase four properties in Point Pleasant on more than 1,000 acres of land for a hydrogen production facility, a biomass power plant, and carbon capture and sequestration equipment. The project is an estimated $2 billion worth of investment.

Once completed, the project would provide clean hydrogen power to chemical manufacturers, transportation companies, other electric utilities, and data centers. The project will produce hydrogen using natural gas in a process. Fidelis would then take the greenhouse gas emissions and pump the carbon dioxide underground, making it a near net-zero emissions facility.

“…The goal in developing, financing, constructing, and operating the Project is to deliver clean hydrogen power to industrial and business users … that are interested in decarbonizing and co-locating on the NPP (North Point Pleasant) site or in the region,” the MOU stated.

The state Economic Development Authority was set to meet to approve up to $62.5 million in forgivable loans through the High Impact Development Project program, but a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office said that meeting was also canceled. The loans would come in tranches of $25 million and $37.5 million.

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


Technology and Infrastructure


Science Advocate Cites Value of Investment


Sudip S. Parikh, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), appeared Monday before Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Technology and Infrastructure, saying, “We live in wonderous time… . This is the golden age of science.”Moreover, Mr. Parikh said scientific advancements foster “economic vitality,” and that the public supports funds dedicated to scientific advancements, as well as spending more on k-12 science and mathematics.

He noted most of West Virginia’s tax dollars received for investment in sciences is parlayed to higher education institutions. He said the state has opportunities to develop greater public/private partnerships, including partnering with neighboring states, including Kentucky and Ohio, on similar initiatives.

 Additionally, the AAAS executive noted that many jobs resulting from investments in scientific endeavors, while requiring specialized degrees for researchers and those having scientific expertise, require various skilled workers, such as electricians and welders.

Senator Mike Stuart of Kanawha County asked about the “pittance” of funds for fossil fuels, given an emphasis on eliminating reliance on carbon-based fuels, especially at the federal level.

Mr. Parikh indicated scientific application is more “both and” rather than “either or” or “versus.”

Thus, he said, coal can’t be excluded or can alternatives to coal or fossil fuels as policymakers determine policy priorities “with science being part of the answer.” He noted known data about climate change and its effects, which has prompted reliance on a “carbon neutral” goals by most governments internationally.

Mr. Parikh reiterated scientific process includes “pitfalls” when scientific developments are placed in “real time” (such as occurred with developments occurring during the Covid pandemic). Thus, he said, scientific advancements are “part of the answer” and that policymakers — not the scientific community per se — must determine how to best use the pronouncements science provides in terms of widespread application.

“The analysis is a policy decision,” he said.

 While not directly answering a question in the manner posed by Senator Stuart that related to scientific ethics that could be used for misguided purposes, Mr. Parikh noted that scientific principles themselves exist in terms of unfolding knowledge and formulae that are continuously evolving through scientists’ human interaction with existing data and experimentation.

 PSC Gives Presentation on Fire Hydrants

The Committee also heard from Public Service Commission representatives concerning fire hydrants. The discussion was prompted largely about a residential fire on Charleston’s West Side The PSC issued its order after faulty fire hydrants in Charleston impeded firefighters in their efforts to put out a blaze in May at the home of Kanawha County Board of Education member Ric Cavender.

West Virginia American Water Co. (WVAWC) said three fire hydrants in the area of the blaze did not have enough water pressure to fight the fire. It took fire crews four hours to put out the blaze.

The matter, which prompted litigation by Cavender, is before Kanawha County Circuit Court this week.

Based on the PSC presentation, the Committee learned the PSC has surveyed 301 regulated utilities, which were asked to complete a comprehensive survey of fire hydrants by July 28. Jonathan Fowler, a PSC engineer, said the deadline had been extended until Aug. 25 and that about half the utilities had responded.

Mr. Fowler said the PSC will make a concerted effort to ensure utilities respond.

“We take this matter extremely seriously and must see these final and complete reports,” PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane said.

“We are in the process of trying to develop an inventory of what is out there in the state now and what is being done as far as inspections and making sure that fire hydrants are working,” Ms. Lane said during a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Technology and Infrastructure.

Delegate Adam Burkhammer of Lewis County asked whether there was a plan to replace inoperable hydrants after the data collection process was concluded.

“Utilities are supposed to repair and maintain their system in accordance with the standards,” Mr. Fowler said. “For small utilities, costs can be a deterrent.”

He went on to explain that new hydrants being installed on existing lines can cost between $10,000 to $13,000. He explained that hydrants are robustly designed and are designed to be maintained for 100 years.

“We have a few in this state that are over 100 years old. The majority from what I’m seeing in the data responses are less than 50 years old, and you can still get all the parts you need for those. So, it gets back to an issue of requiring the utility to better maintain the hydrants,” Mr. Fowler said.

He said the PSC will formulate a response to legislators after reviewing municipalities’ data about fire hydrants

Lawmakers Hear About Rail Regulations

John Perry, a PSC staff member who largely discussed railroad inspections and blocked railroad crossings, said the state is beholden to federal regulations when discussing many railroad issues, although he said most inspection situations are resolved.

PSC General Counsel Jessica Lane reiterated Perry’s analysis. She noted litigation has been filed about the February derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, which about 20 miles from the West Virginia border.


Public Schools


Third Grade Success Act Reviewed


Members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCRA) learned Sunday that statutory provisions of House Bill 3025, known as the Third Grade Success Act, relating to actual grade retention, will be effective in the 2026 school year, although this year’s class of kindergarten through third-grade students will benefit from various aspects of the legislation.Deputy State Superintendent Sonya White provided legislators with an update primarily about efforts the state Department of Education is taking to implement the legislation.

The Act requires the state Board of Education to develop screeners and benchmark assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics for students in kindergarten through third grade, as well as a multi-tiered system of support for students exhibiting substantial reading or math deficiencies to ensure students are proficient before moving past the third grade. The bill also allows for teacher aides and interventionists in early elementary classrooms up to third grade.

According to Ms. White, many provisions of the legislation are included in West Virginia Board of Education Policy 2512, one of several policies developed by the Department of Education to comply with the Third Grade Success Act.

The state Board of Education’s policies to implement the legislation are placed on 60-day public comment: /

Updates to Policy 2512 include inserting the science of reading and numeracy alongside literacy into state Board of Education policy and the development of a statewide comprehensive approach to close reading and mathematics achievement gaps by third grade.

Approved screeners and or benchmark assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics will be administered three times during a school year for students in kindergarten through third grade. Students who don’t meet the benchmarks will be provided with tiered intervention to help the student improve.

Beginning with this year’s kindergarten students, if a student is not proficient in reading and math by the end of third grade in 2026, the student will not be promoted to fourth grade until the deficiencies are removed. The law doesn’t apply to students with disabilities with an individualized education plan (IEP), foreign students who are English language learners, students who have been receiving extensive intervention for two years and receiving special education services, students exempt for good cause, and students diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia.

 Ms. White said there is a difference between the tiered interventions included in the Third Grade Success Act and an IEP. While similar to the Title I program that has been in public schools for decades to help students not meeting reading and math benchmarks, the tiered interventions will be more intensive.

In a meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education, Ms. White was asked by Senator Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County whether “interventionalists” include persons who work with county boards through contracted services, which the state Supreme Court sanctioned under a favorable ruling in 2016.

Ms. White said interventionalists must be approved by the WVDE, and interventionalists other than school employees must be approved, subject to existing law.

House Education Vice Chairman Joe Statler of Monongalia County asked a similar question but from the vantage of retired educators serving in these positions. He also expressed concern whether the state has sufficient personnel to meet the legislative mandate.

At Sunday’s LOCEA meeting, House Education Chairman Joe Ellington of Mercer County also said the legislation required reportage from grades four, five, and eight in terms of assessment data based on student progress, including county interventions, to gauge academic progress.

Ms. White said the WVDE would provide the information in a subsequent report, although she said the legislation emphasized grade three reporting and that another state Board Policy could be amended to take that consideration into account.

Earlier in the meeting, Senator Rollan Roberts of Raleigh County inquired whether the legislation would end up being “an education shell game” in terms of implementation.

Several LOCEA members, expressing support for the legislation, said frequent legislative updates will keep legislators informed about its impact.

The Department of Education has submitted two monthly reports to the Commission as required by the Third Grade Success Act for July and August. The department held two training sessions for reading, science, and numeracy in Charleston and Morgantown this summer for teachers as part of the Invest Conference.

“I was lucky enough to attend the Invest Conference, and it was tremendous, tremendous information,” said commission Co-Chair Amy Grady of Mason County. “Everybody that was there were really energized and really excited about it. And when you are attending a conference as a teacher over the summer, it’s not really exciting. But everybody that I talked to were really energized and looking forward to it. And all the presentations I saw in the classes I took were wonderful. So kudos to the department on that.”

Ms. White also provided an update about the Invest Conference to the Joint Standing Committee.

In other interim sessions regarding public education, legislators received information about these topics:

Coach evaluations. House Bill 2597, with provisions relating to evaluating public school coaches, doesn’t appear to affect only professional educators who serve as coaches rather than school service personnel or “citizen coaches” school districts may employ if professionals don’t express interest in a school coaching position, according to Senate Education counsel, who responded to a legislator’s inquiry. (The law addresses extracurricular activities, which may include cheerleading coaches and others.)

School counselors. Molly Sigmon, a Wyoming County school counselor, discussed duties of school counselors, saying despite a state law that requires school counselors to devote at least 80% of their time to counseling-related issues, counselors may feel pressured to assume other school- or class-related duties. The matter has been discussed in previous legislative sessions.

Future Leaders Program (FLP). A student leadership program, which emphasizes post-secondary employment, enlistment, or education (its ‘three Es’) could be useful in all counties, although some county superintendents told Deborah Patterson, who has primary responsibility for running the program, that the $80,000 fee, which includes staffing, materials, and travel for the Future Leaders Program, is beyond the ability of some smaller county boards to pay. Legislators praised the program, which Ms. Patterson says operates in nine counties. She said the program’s success relates not only to the “three Es” emphasis but also because of structure, peer accountability, and exposing students to varied opportunities. She said while many FLP students enlist in the U.S. military, the program is designed for “all students,” with no especial emphasis on “at-risk” students or students referred to the program for disciplinary reasons. Philip Cantrell, director/intergovernmental and external affairs for the West Virginia National Guard Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, also praised the leadership program while discussing the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy.

Level All. Kevin Kenney, founder and CEO of Level All, explained a program aimed specifically at students whose family income might be prohibitive for higher education studies. Mr. Kenney stressed the program was essentially “free for life,” and that it provided a customized approach that serves to make students aware of career choices at an early age and also ensures students receive resources — the program features an online portal — to guide self-exploration of careers through “personalized, in-depth support, and guidance.”


Higher Education


Chancellor Describes AB’s Problems


On Sunday, Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Armstrong Tucker provided information to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Educational Accountability (LOCEA) about the scheduled closure of financially troubled Alderson Broaddus University.Ms. Armstrong-Tucker noted Alderson-Broaddus’ declining fiscal plight became known in 2022. She made these points about the institution’s impending December 31 closure:

Passage of House Bill 2800, which overhauled higher education rules, provided leeway for the HEPC to take more definitive actions once Alderson-Broaddus plight was known compared to what occurred when Ohio Valley University closed in 2021 and Mountain State University closed in 2012.

Based on HEPC’s analysis of AB’s fiscal situation, Ms. Tucker said, “They have significant long-term debt of more than $30 million, they have lines of credit at or near $5 million, which is their maximum, and they owe the city of Philippi $835,000.”

Ms. Tucker said changes in the administrative leadership at Alderson Broaddus resulted in inconsistent approaches to dealing with the severity of issues facing the institution as evidenced by insisted appeals from donors to provide funds for operating expenses as well as intense reliance on purported $1.1 million in anticipated IRS “tax credits,” $500,000 from moneys that were available due to resignation of a former president who was unpopular with a newly constituted AB governing board and escalating expenses, including moneys for utilities owed to the city of Philippi.

As fiscal woes mounted, the Chancellor said AB continued to recruit students.

“The biggest concern altogether was Alderson Broaddus actually recruiting students” as the school’s plight became known. She said it became clear to the HEPC that “at the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that this institution was not going to be able to stay open for the semester.”

State institutions, particularly West Virginia Wesleyan College, have been open to accommodating AB students. It appears the first-year class of students who were enrolled in AB’s physician assistant program may not be able to find placement.

Of the 750 students enrolled at the private institution, Ms. Tucker said around 80% of AB students are athletes whose tuition is reduced by around 50%.

“Isn’t that pretty high?” Delegate Joe Statler of Monongalia County asked. Tucker replied, “yes.”

The Chancellor said financial monitoring improved under House Bill 2800. She said the Legislature might consider a state “trigger” for institutions, which could be enhanced through heightened fiscal reporting.

Chancellor Tucker also gave a brief update on deferred maintenance for higher education institutions, thanking legislators for allocating money in the state’s surplus for deferred maintenance. She said $272 million is being allocated for four-year institutions, while two-year institutions have around $20 million for deferred maintenance.


Looking Ahead


Here are the dates of upcoming interim meetings: 

·     September 10-12

·     October 15-17

·     November 12-14 (Wheeling)

·     December 10-12

·     January 7-9


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