THIS WEEK IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES
For the week ending Feb. 1, 2019
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates this past week voted to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security benefits, passed comprehensive legislation to promote broadband expansion and development, began the process of reforming the state’s foster care system and wrapped up its budget hearings with state agencies.
“As we approach the mid-point of the session this coming Thursday, the House of Delegates has already passed several bills to address many of the goals we laid out at the beginning of this session,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.
“From reforming our tax code, promoting broadband technologies, improving our foster care system, and beginning the process of moving bills to enhance workforce opportunities and our education system, we’re working hard to pursue our vision of making West Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Speaker Hanshaw said.
The House on Friday voted overwhelmingly 96-1 to approve House Bill 2001, which will completely repeal the state’s income tax on Social Security benefits.
West Virginia is one of just 13 states to tax Social Security incomes. The bill is expected to provide $50 million in tax relief for state seniors in the coming fiscal year.
“This bill isn’t just about providing tax relief, it’s a matter of fundamental fairness,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “The government took this money out of our hard-working citizens’ paychecks all their lives, and I think it’s wrong that we should tax it again when they finally reap the benefits. Ending this double-taxation on Social Security dollars will send a signal that West Virginia respects its taxpayers.”
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The House on Monday also advanced comprehensive legislation to improve high-speed internet access by voting 97-2 to approve House Bill 2005, the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019.
This bill will allow broadband and wireless internet carriers to use existing rights-of-way and utility poles to place new network technologies. It also requires electric utility companies to study whether they can use their distribution networks to provide broadband services. It will also change how new broadband and wireless infrastructure is valued for property tax purposes.
These changes are designed to encourage development by dramatically reducing the cost of building or expanding broadband networks in the state.
“Broadband internet access has the potential to connect our state to the rest of the world like nothing else before,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “This bill will not only help local businesses and entrepreneurs access new markets, but allow our children to connect to new online educational opportunities and provide seniors access to telemedicine and the most advanced health services.”
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The House on Thursday voted 67-32 to pass House Bill 2010, which will reform the state’s foster care system.
Due to the state’s drug epidemic, the foster care system has been overwhelmed beyond capacity. The bill would enact commonsense reforms to help encourage more people to become foster parents, as well as update rules so that parents can treat their foster children more like they would their biological ones.
The bill also improves and modernizes health care services for the nearly 7,000 children in the foster care system by transitioning their health care management to a managed care organization, which is better equipped to manage records and provide a greater continuity of care.
“These children are in desperate conditions,” said House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor. “Most come from broken homes that have been ravaged by drug abuse. They deserve as much love, compassion, and continuity of care that we can provide, and I truly believe this bill will be a crucial first step to giving our children the love and care they deserve.”
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Finally, on Friday the House Finance Committee concluded its budget hearing process with the various state agencies that receive funding through the state budget.
Since Jan. 9, the committee has held 27 hearings analyzing the state’s revenue and budget forecast and questioning various agency leaders about their financial needs and requests.
“Now that our state’s financial picture has improved, thanks to responsible fiscal management by Republican leaders in recent years, we are better positioned to pass reasonable budgets that control spending while also investing in critical areas of need,” Chairman Householder said.
“Over the coming weeks, we will carefully scrutinize all spending requests and prioritize the needs that provide our citizens the greatest benefit while maintaining the budget efficiencies we’ve secured in recent years,” he said.