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

State Capitol

January 11, 2024


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In This Edition


·     STATE-OF-THE-STATE ADDRESS: Governor Jim Justice delivered his final State-of-the-State Address Wednesday, touching on his administration’s priorities as the 2024 session of the Legislature begins.

·     BIC CONFERENCE: State leaders are expressing their support for a pro-business agenda that they believe will create more jobs and a stronger tax base.

·     MENTAL HEALTH: The Joint Committee on the Judiciary accepted a report about mental health, incarceration, and at-risk populations.

·     EMERGENCY SERVICES: Legislators are seeking ways to fund emergency medical and fire services.

·     TECHNOLOGY AND INFRASTRUCTURE: A state broadband official told lawmakers about efforts to expand access to the Internet.

·     EDUCATION: The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA) and the Joint Standing Committee on Education discussed the end of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

·     PEIA: The Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and PEIA issues issued its final report on Monday.

·     CORRECTIONS: An experienced corrections official highlighted many challenges former prisoners face, such as lack of housing, transportation, and identification and other documents.

·     ENERGY AND MANUFACTURING: Legislators learned about state agencies’ interests in increasing energy production from existing and new sources as well as increasing the state’s energy self-sufficiency.


State-of-the-State Address


Governor offers policy ideas to lawmakers


Governor Jim Justice, with his eighth and final year in office underway, delivered a 90-minute State-of-the-State Address Wednesday in the West Virginia House of Delegates Chamber. Click here and here to read news accounts from West Virginia MetroNews.


BIC Conference


Lawmakers strike business friendly notes


“‘Business’ is no longer a dirty word in West Virginia.”

With his opening comment Monday at the annual West Virginia Business & Industry Council (BIC) Pre-Legislative Conference at the state Culture Center in Charleston, West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair of Berkeley County gave BIC members reason for optimism.

Founded in 1982, BIC is made up of trade association executives who support expanding the influence of business at the state Capitol. The regular session of the 2024 legislative session began Wednesday.

President Blair led a chorus of state officials who touted the policy successes of recent legislative sessions. Speakers said budget surpluses and improved government efficiencies and priorities are the key results, and they open the door for improving the lives of West Virginians.

In the past, President Blair indicated, state leaders were not committed to encouraging economic growth. He said the Legislature today is committed to “working at the speed of business, not the speed of government.

President Blair said promoting the state’s economy is giving state government the resources it needs to address important policy challenges, including those involving education, child well-being, and corrections.

In the past, he said, state leaders saw a parade of young West Virginia citizens leave the state to find work elsewhere. Today, he continued, leaders in state government and higher education are collaborating to promote business investment in West Virginia and create employment opportunities for young people.

President Blair mentioned the cooperation he has experienced with Marshall University President Brad Smith, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, and House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw of Clay County. The state recently has promoted itself to large companies, including those that have a strong interest in energy and technology.

President Blair noted that people create “true wealth” when they add value to raw materials and create useful products. He was especially bullish on preparing young people to work in the trades.

President Blair also called for more flexibility in public education. That could include allowing students to go to school 12 months a year if they want to, he said.

Governor Jim Justice spoke briefly, calling BIC members the state’s economic engine.

“For God’s sake alive, you make us go,” he said.

Justice, who is serving the last full year of his second term, said the past eight years have gone by quickly. He said companies’ decisions to invest in West Virginia are bringing newfound interest in the state as a place to do business.

“We’ve become the envy of the world,” he said. “Keep doing good stuff.”

Speaker Hanshaw agreed the state’s financial statements are strong, including “nine-digit budget surpluses,” but he acknowledged much work remains. As an example, he said 52% of the students in Clay County High School — the Speaker’s home-county high school — meet the federal definition of homelessness. He said that statistic doesn’t mean that 52% of the students are literally homeless, but it is evidence that much work remains, especially on the economic front.

“We’ve created a lot of jobs, and we’re proud of that, but we’ve got to create a lot more,” Speaker Hanshaw said.

Successfully expanding the economy will allow the state to pay attention to what the Speaker called “quality-of-life” challenges. One of those, he said, is to find a way to appropriately fund emergency and fire services. Both EMS squads and volunteer fire departments have said they have difficulty in recent years recruiting and retaining personnel. In addition, they note their operational costs continue to increase.

Speaker Hanshaw also said lawmakers want the state’s colleges and universities to have the funding they expect and deserve. Those institutions, he said, will use a new funding formula.

Like President Blair, Speaker Hanshaw said he sees the value of training citizens to work in the trades. National statistics, he said, show that West Virginians lag in acquiring post-secondary education. He said, however, that he sees a way for in-state institutions to award associate degrees and other certification that acknowledge training in the trades.

Judge Greear offers review of Intermediate Court

Judge Daniel W. Greear of the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals provided the BIC audience on Monday with an update on the court’s work since it became operational in July 2022 after the Legislature approved its creation.

Judge Greear said the Court has accepted about 600 cases on an annual basis. About 32% are workers’ compensation cases, 30% are civil cases, 20% are family court cases, and 13% are administrative law cases, he said.

One of three judges on the Intermediate Court of Appeals, Judge Greear said the new court is reducing caseloads on the state’s circuit courts and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals created five satellite courtrooms, but those are underused, Judge Greear said. The satellite courtrooms are in Grant, Lewis, Morgan, Raleigh, and Lewis counties. The courtrooms, he continued, are intended to be a convenience for attorneys who have cases before the Intermediate Court.

Judge Greear said the Intermediate Court of Appeals is positioned to develop more family and administrative case law. He said circuit courts do not have the time and resources to devote to developing opinions that be of value when courts hear future cases.

BIC releases its 2024 legislative priorities

BIC released its 2024 legislative priority list on Monday, and the organization is calling for an array of measures, including:

·     Investments in initiatives to support workforce participation;

·     Investments in infrastructure, including roads, public buildings, water, sewer, and broadband;

·     Modernization of laws, rules, and regulations governing business and industry to make sure they are not more stringent than federal regulations or rules in other states;

·     Tort reform that brings the state’s civil justice system in line with the rest of the country;

·     Professional licensure that protects consumer health, especially for engineers, architects, accountants, surveyors, foresters, in the real estate sector, and medical professionals;

·     Timely use of $1.2 billion in federal broadband funds;

·     Strengthening distracted driving laws to reduce highway fatalities and auto accidents;

·     A full review and potential amending of regulations relating to above-ground storage tanks and vessels; and

·     Campaign finance reform with an emphasis on increasing transparency and efficiency involving political action committees and organizational engagement.


Mental Health


Report focuses on at-risk populations


The Joint Committee on the Judiciary, co-chaired by Senator Charles Trump of Morgan County and Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County, heard a presentation on Tuesday on the Report of West Virginia Strategic Plan, Diversion of Justice-Involved Individuals, based on Senate Bill 232, which passed in 2023.

SB232 asks for the creation of a model regarding how individuals with mental health issues come in contact with the criminal-justice system. The model they chose is the Sequential Intercept Model.

David Clayman, Ph.D., Chair, Dangerousness Assessment Advisory Board, Colleen Willard, Ph.D., Statewide Forensic Clinical Director, and John M. Snyder, M.S., Statewide Forensic Coordinator, completed the report. They asked that the Committee created by SB232 be continued. They said that it has to have teeth, and that needs legislative buy-in.

Dr. Clayman provided an introduction to the report, saying the group held 27 meetings with lots of attendees and organizations, including the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and 19 other stakeholders. Their charge was to look at the at-risk populations and target groups, including abuse and neglect cases, the seriously mentally ill, those with traumatic brain injury, and others.

“We didn’t know it was as large as it was,” said Dr. Clayman, speaking about the mission.

“To have my fingerprint on this bill that will be a legacy; then I can go and say I’ve done my job,” Dr. Clayman said, giving credit for the detail work to Dr. Colleen Willard and John Snyder.

One overall common theme found is that there are numerous programs for different problems and issues, but they are not implemented or communicated consistently across the state.

Recommendations to the Legislature include:

·     Create a council for the coordination of forensic mental health services. That includes continuing the mission of the SB232 study group and encouraging active legislative member participation and input.

·     Make recommendations for changes to statute relevant to adult and juvenile forensic services.

·     Expand continuum of care for services for individuals with mental illness. That would include stepdown, transitional living, crisis stabilization, and group homes.

·     Communication between agencies, including requiring sharing of databases and a dashboard of mental health services.

Plans include continuation of the work of the study group; developing standards and protocols to promote continuity of care and interventions; creating a model to coordinate services among agencies, law enforcement, and the court system to ensure public safety and effective clinical management of patients; and to identify sources of funding.

“We have acutely mentally ill people in the jail system,” Dr. Clayman said.

Senator David Stover of Wyoming County, speaking of the closing of mental health hospitals and asylums in the 1970s, said, “We poured people on the streets by the tens of thousands. We’re still there it seems.”

John Snyder responded that forensic patients are taking up beds in acute psychiatric hospitals and are there for as long as 15 years.

“We’re housing these folks inappropriately,” Mr. Snyder said. He added that there are not enough places for stepdown care, and more group homes are needed. There are 55 residents in group homes around the state now.

Chairman Trump concluded the meeting by thanking the study group for its work, saying his biggest fear as a legislator is not knowing what he doesn’t know.

“We need people with expertise, interest, and passion to help steer us,” Senator Trump said in closing.


Emergency Services


Lawmakers examine EMS, VFD funding


The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) heard presentations on Sunday from both West Virginia EMS Coalition Director Chris Hall and Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) Director Jody Ratliff.

Director Hall provided the Committee with extensive information relating to the evolution of EMS services in West Virginia. He also noted, as in previous interim sessions, misconceptions about EMS services.

The report reiterated points that Director Ratliff made during a November 2023 interim meeting in Wheeling. Director Hall said the Legislature provided $1 million for EMS funding and urged lawmakers to maximize those dollars through a “grant format” that he said aligns with historical EMS funding patterns. He added the grant approach, largely for one ambulance per county, could be modified, based on state-level finances.

Director Hall said the grant approach would allow local EMS providers to prioritize needs, which could be enhanced by the entities’ participating in state purchasing programs and benefitting from bulk or directed purchasing.

The EMS Coalition also wants to review EMS certification and licensure to clarify that state and federal laws align.

In response to questions, Director Hall said statistics regarding EMS funding sources varied, He noted inconsistent data.

Director Ratliff said OEMS could provide leadership to ascertain that information and other statistics and data.

Committee members praised the use of the hardcopy data, included in a three-ring binder, rather than Power Point slides.

Senator Rupie Phillips of Logan County, however, said the Coalition must avoid “comparing apples to oranges” when comparing West Virginia EMT funding with contiguous states, Click here for additional coverage.

Late last week, Governor Jim Justice pledged to secure permanent funding sources for the state’s Volunteer Fire Departments. Click here for additional coverage from the West Virginia Press Association.


Technology and Infrastructure


Broadband funding examined


Kelly Workman, Director of the West Virginia Office of Broadband, told the Joint Committee on Technology and Infrastructure on Monday about West Virginia’s process for applying for funding from the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which will provide $1.2 billion to the state.

Director Workman covered the state’s initial proposal, public comments received, revisions requested by the Federal Communications Commission, and the next steps.

Committee members asked questions about accountability, mapping accuracy, pole attachment issues causing delays to projects, and how new construction will be served. Workman provided updates on the state’s broadband mapping, application scoring process, and ongoing projects funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. She also provided information about West Virginia’s plans and progress in expanding broadband access across the state using federal grant money.

Heather Abbott, Chief Information Officer of the West Virginia Office of Technology, provided updates on the agency’s projects, including the Phoenix Project, which is evaluating how the office operates and supports other state departments. Ms. Abbott discussed looking at agency costs and services to ensure departments can afford what they provide.

The West Virginia Office of Technology also is working to improve applications across state departments and enhance outdated systems. Additionally, it is working to improve internal services, such as cabling and creating more self-service options for requests. Ms. Abbott also discussed strengthening relationships with other government organizations and departments.




Committees discuss end of relief funding


The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA) and the Joint Standing Committee on Education discussed on Sunday the end of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was included in the HR1319, and how it would affect school districts’ programming.

The funds expire in 2025. School districts often used those funds to augment school personnel positions.

Deputy State Superintendent Sonya White, responding on Sunday to a question from House Education Chair Joe Ellington of Mercer County, said the state Department of Education provides guidance to county school districts to “plan appropriately once the (ERISA) funding ends.”

White’s report, required for WVDE presentation by statute, includes extensive detail about county board finances for FY19-FY22.

Legislators learn about Steam-TAC

The central Joint Committee on Education presentation involved the West Virginia’s STEAM Technical Assistance Center classroom immersion demonstration. Click here.

Steam-TAC is sponsored by the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, which uses technology innovation, augmented by professional development, to enhance student and educator engagement in technology-based curricula.

Program officials, including Donna Hoylman Peduto and two former school district educators who staff the program, said program funding amounting to $1.1 million to $1.2 million appears to be concluding. The group suggested the Legislature could assist in funding the program, although Senate Vice Chairman Charles R. Clements of Wetzel County asked whether county boards of education had been approached to provide funding.

The answer: no.

Legislators expressed support for the program, although they made no funding commitments.

Public elementary school discipline considered

The increase in public school disciplinary measures involving elementary school students has prompted legislative concerns. Click here for news coverage.

Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Serena Starcher and Special Education Director Allen Sexton provided an overview of the district’s alternative education program for elementary students, saying its provisions are based on programs in Monongalia County and Kanawha County and that Raleigh County’s “T-4” program aligns with state Board of Education special-needs student policies.

Mr. Sexton touted the program’s success, noting only one instance in which a student later faced disciplinary action.

The in-school program — a student’s parents must approve placement — emphasizes a lowered one-one pupil/educator ratio that is enhanced by efforts to modify or change student behaviors. Additionally, school aides assist in the program.

Sciences and Rural Health Report presented

Takeaways from the 2023 West Virginia Health Sciences and Rural Health Report:

·     In 2023, 25% (200) of the 828 medical students who enrolled in the first-year classes of the state’s three medical schools were state residents.

·     Among all 2023 medical school graduates in West Virginia, 56% (205) chose to do primary care residencies, up from 55% last year.

·     West Virginia has expanded student financial assistance efforts to include social work, pharmacy, public health, occupational therapy, psychology, and physical therapy as well as LPNs and RNs. There are 243 participants.

·     The Medical Student Loan Program provides needs-based loans, which are “forgiven” for service in underserved areas of the state or in specialties with shortages.

·     West Virginia medical school graduates select primary-care residencies at a rate higher than the national average. Many of those graduates remain in state to practice, however A low distribution of primary-care physicians persists, especially in rural and low-income areas, according to Jordyn Reed, Administrator, Center for Nursing, who presented the report.

·     The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine has the highest tuition and fees. According to the report, WVSOM relies more on out-of-state students as its “base.” Fewer of those students, having completed residencies, remain in West Virginia.

AI school district policy guidance reviewed


·     The AI presentation included basics about AI as well as specific policy requirements for county school districts. In response to questions from Delegate Rolland Jennings of Preston County about AI detracting from conventional learning, Erika Klose, WVDE Coordinator, said school districts, educators, parents, and others should see AI not as an end-all-be-all for learning but to  enhance learning. She said AI isn’t “alive” (in the sense of human ‘consciousness) but uses predictive algorithms to provide responses.

IDEA reporting offered


·     Kelli Caseman, Executive Director of Think Kids, provided details about some constraints in receiving information from county boards and other sources, including the state Department of Education, regarding special-needs students’ education. She proposed that data be arrayed in dashboard format so various data users would have easier access when seeking research data or responding to constituent requests for information from the state Developmental Disabilities Council.


Public Employees Insurance Agency


Committee issues its final report


The Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and PEIA issues issued its final report on Monday.

The three-page report itemizes Committee deliberations during 2023 and in January 2024.

During interim meetings, the Joint Committee considered:

·     “Pharmacy Benefits Manager” (PBM) legislation and its regulatory enforcement, including spread pricing, rebate retention and administration of those programs, conflicts of interest, technology to leverage health-system assets, and methodologies that could “eliminate hidden profits.” The discussion also entailed an RFP to evaluate various models for pharmaceutical benefits.

·     Mental health parity.

·     Issues independent pharmacies face, including reimbursement and mandatory use of prescribed 90-day supplies of medicines.

·     Prescription benefits, including reimbursement for specialty drugs as well as total Agency claims for generic and brand drugs and ways for savings.

·     Securing lowest “net costs” for prescriptions.

·     A review of the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management’s centralized services with possible principles applicable to PEIA.

·     Impact of legislation relating to PEIA spousal surcharges and the return to the 80/20 premium ratio.

·     Agency audits and recovery efforts, an updated benefits administration system, the agency’s 2025-2028 Financial Plan and premium increases, which was adopted in the November 2023 interim meeting

Senator Michael T. Azinger of Wood County and Delegate Matthew Rohrbaugh of Cabell County co-chair the 20-member Committee.




Report describes assisting inmate re-entry


Beverly Sharp, founder and executive director of REACH Initiative in West Virginia Reentry Council, spoke to the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority on Tuesday about her 30-year background with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and her work now helping former prisoners re-enter society through various programs and councils across West Virginia.

She highlighted many challenges former prisoners face, such as lack of housing, transportation, and identification and other documents. Sharpe shared stories about individuals released from prison with nowhere to go. She advocated for reducing technical parole violations that send people back to jail, as well as increasing transitional housing options. Sharp praised recent efforts by the Department of Corrections to address issues, but she said more can be done through cooperation among different organizations.

Members of the Committee asked Sharp who decides consequences for technical violations, how formalized the re-entry council network is addressing mental health needs, and transportation assistance upon release.

William K. Marshall, Commissioner of West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was invited by Senator Jason Barrett of Berkeley County to follow up on a claim released by the media on Monday about 1,284 inmates sleeping on the floor. The Commissioner explained that the number reported in response to a FOIA was incorrect due to a tracking systems error.

The Commissioner said, “The actual accurate number from Dec. 4 (2023), the individuals assigned to the floor is 285. Now keep in mind, these individuals are not sleeping on the floor, unprotected. They sleep in what we call a boat. It looks like a kayak for lack of a better term. It sits about a foot off the ground, it’s fiberglass, and the regular standard-issue mattress fits inside of that.”

Commissioner Marshall said staffing levels are increasing and facility employees have expressed appreciation for the improved culture and leadership under the new executive team and superintendents.


Energy and Manufacturing


Agency supports increased production


The Joint Standing Committee on Energy and Manufacturing heard a presentation on Tuesday from Nicholas Preservati from the West Virginia Office of Energy. He provided updates on West Virginia’s energy policy and the work of the Office of Energy and Public Energy Authority.

Mr. Preservati gave an overview of the roles and responsibilities of the two organizations. He discussed West Virginia’s energy policies and goals, which focus on increasing production from existing and new energy sources as well as increasing the state’s energy self-sufficiency.

Mr. Preservati then presented information on various programs and initiatives by the Office of Energy, such as the energy efficiency rebate programs, grid resilience projects, energy benchmarking of state buildings, and energy training programs. He also discussed the purpose and powers of the Public Energy Authority.

Committee members asked several questions about the programs and policies.


Health and Human Resources


Brief meeting leads to packet approval


Chair Amy Summers of Taylor County on Sunday asked members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability to read the final report in their packets.

After giving them a short time to read it, she called for a motion to approve. The final report was approved with no presentation or discussion. The meeting was adjourned.


Looking Ahead


Key dates:

20th Day: January 29, 2024 — Submission of Legislative Rule-Making Review bills due

35th Day: February 13, 2024 — 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 19, 2024 — 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 25, 2024 — Bills due out of committees in house of origin to ensure three full days for readings

50th Day: February 28, 2024 — Last day to consider bill on third reading in house of origin; does not include budget or supplementary appropriation bills

60th Day: March 9, 2024 — Adjournment at midnight


Footnote for Readers


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