by MANDI CARDOSI
The first session of the 83rd Legislature will bring many challenges, perhaps the most difficult task facing West Virginia will be how to handle the state budget.
The Republican Leadership will likely see a struggle on the road ahead when figuring out necessary cuts and deciding whether or not to raise taxes.
The state budget has hovered around $13 billion in recent years. In Fiscal Year 2017, the funding to the General Revenue totals $4.2 billion, Lottery funds are $420 million, the state road fund $1.3 billion, special revenue $2 billion, and federal at $4.8 billion.
Democratic Governor Jim Justice is touting a "Save Our State" budget proposal including increasing taxes and borrowing $123 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund. He's also looking at increasing the sales tax and increasing the gasoline tax 10 cents to the gallon.
"If we don't fully implement this plan, or something awfully similar to this, our state's going to die," Justice says in a video released about his plan."
"We need to be all in. It needs to be where the people pay a little bit, the businesses pay a little bit, we're all going to run across the finish line together."
Justice says his plan will create 48,000 jobs.
Many legislators are not interested in passing any tax increases. The two leaders in the House and Senate are working together to get everyone on the same page, as well as trying to work with the new Governor.
With a Governor and Republican Legislature disagreeing, it will likely be a process to come to an agreement on how to adjust the state's spending.
In the Senate, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said it's disappointing the Governor is looking to raise taxes on hardworking West Virginians.
"We believe that is the wrong path," he said. "We're going to try our level best to hold the line on last year's budget and work with the Governor and our legislative colleagues to bring a budget forth that spends no more than we spent last year."
House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said it is the House's intention to review the budget rather meticulously.
"We intend to review every line item in this budget and find whatever savings we can make. We will not be afraid to challenge the status quo and cut the bureaucracy in Charleston."
As of 4:00 p.m., Friday, February 17, 2017, the 10th day of the regular session of the 83rd Legislature, 349 bills have been introduced in the West Virginia Senate. Of those bills, ten have passed and have been sent to the House for further consideration. Among those:
Senate Bill 127 would authorize the Insurance Commissioner to promulgate a legislative rule relating to Adoption of a Valuation Manual.
Senate Bill 151 would authorize the Board of Risk and Insurance Management to promulgate a legislative rule relating to the Patient Injury Compensation Fund.
Senate Bill 169 would repeal the article on providing assistance to Korean and Vietnam veterans exposed to certain chemical defoliants or herbicides or other causative agents, including Agent Orange.
Senate Bill 170 would repeal the state hemophilia program.
Senate Bill 171 would repeal Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.
Senate Bill 174 would eliminate the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission over the transportation of household goods.
Senate Bill 176 would repeal the article concerning the detection of tuberculosis, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Senate Bill 230 would require all law-enforcement agencies in this state to certify qualified law-enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms nationwide as provided by the federal Law-Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which would provide statutory authority necessary to give prosecuting attorneys and assistant prosecuting attorneys the option to carry firearms for self-defense pursuant to that federal act upon completion of required training and annual background check and to require law-enforcement agencies to provide qualified retired law-enforcement officers the opportunity to be certified to carry concealed firearms nationwide, under that act.
Senate Bill 233 would exclude oral communications uttered in a child care center from protection under the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, as long as there are notices posted informing persons that their oral communications are being intercepted.
Senate Bill 237 would repeal obsolete rules relating to the Department of Revenue and the banking and insurance commissioners.
Senate Bill 20 would limit health insurance coverage for elective abortions to coverage provided through supplemental policies. Elective abortion exceptions are provided for certain pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or result from rape or incest.
Senate Bill 37 would raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco, alternative nicotine and vapor products to 21.
Senate Bill 64 would require the disclosure of dark money political expenditures to allow the public to know who is paying for political advertisements.
Senate Bill 66 would modify the definition of a “terrorist act” to include the intimidation directed to either an official or employee of any branch or level of government or to members of his or her family. The bill would also apply existing criminal penalties.
Senate Bill 69 would create a bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault.
Senate Bill 76 would create the West Virginia Second Chance for Employment Act, which would expand eligibility for criminal expungement to persons convicted of certain nonviolent felonies.
Senate Bill 178 would require license plates to be placed on the front and back of all vehicles to improve public safety.
Senate Bill 193 would prohibit the use of tobacco products in a motor vehicle while individuals sixteen years of age or under are present. The bill also provides that the misdemeanor offense created by this section is a secondary offense that may only be charged if a driver has been detained for violation of another vehicle law.
Senate Bill 206 would expand the definition of kidnapping to including taking or gaining custody of, confining or concealing another person by force or threat of force; or by duress, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or enticement.
Senate Bill 238 would increase the tax credits allowed for the rehabilitation of historic structures from 10 percent to 25 percent.
Senate Bill 260 would require the tax on fuel to be increased by an additional five cents whenever the average wholesale price of motor fuel is less than $2 per gallon.
Senate Bill 271 would prevent the State Board of Education from implementing common core academic standards and assessments, as well as establish a process and criteria for the state to develop alternate academic standards and assessments, prohibit the state board from entering into any agreement which requires implementation of common core standards, and require the state board to report to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education and Accountability.
Senate Bill 272 would permit employers to test both prospective and current employees for drugs and alcohol.
Senate Bill 278 would permit hunting on Sundays on private land with the consent of the landowner. The bill also eliminates ballot measures pertaining to Sunday hunting and voids the results or any ballot measure prohibiting Sunday hunting.
Senate Bill 295 would provide a tax credit for modifications to homes made more accessible for an elderly person or a person with a disability.
Senate Bill 297 would increase the minimum criminal penalty for transportation of a Schedule I or II narcotic drug into the state from one to three years. These drugs include methadone, oxycodone, opium and morphine, among others.
Senate Bill 316 would require individuals receiving unemployment compensation to seek out seasonal employment.
Senate Bill 317 would authorize a family court judge to order substance abuse counseling of a child in emergency situations.
Senate Bill 324 would prohibit the Governor and the Legislature from administering equal across-the-board budget cuts to all higher education, which would protect community colleges from disproportionate budget cuts.
Senate Bill 334 would provide create the felony offense of aggravated cruelty to animals.
House Bill 2006 (Increasing the penalties for violating the Whistle-blower Law) would increase the penalties for violating the Whistle-blower Law and authorize the termination from employment for a violation, instead of the current allowance of a suspension not to exceed six months. This bill is now being sent to the Senate for further discussion.
House Bill 2099 (Defining the act of leaving the scene of a crash involving death or serious bodily injury as a felony; Erin's Law) would define the act of leaving the scene of a crash involving death or serious bodily injury as a felony and establish the act of leaving the scene of a crash that does not proximately cause death or injury as a misdemeanor. The bill defines what bodily injury and serious bodily injury.
House Bill 2303 (Increasing criminal penalties for littering) would increase the fines and community service hours for littering. This bill will be on 3rd Reading Monday.
House Bill 2319 (Relating to candidates or candidate committees for legislative office disclosing contributions) would require members of the Legislature to disclose contributions and fund-raising events while the Legislature is in session. It requires the information to be provided within 5 days of the event or receipt of contribution. It requires the Secretary of State to publish such information on the Secretary of State’s website within 1 day. This bill will be on 3rd Reading on Monday.
House Bill 2167 (Creating a Silver Alert program for senior citizens) would add senior citizens to the Silver Alert program. Silver Alert is a public system to notify the public about missing senior citizens. It uses various media platforms to get information out. This bill is on the House Calendar to be read for the first time on Monday.
House Bill 2007 (Eliminating courtesy patrol programs) would eliminate the courtesy patrol programs operated by the Divisions of Highways and the Parkways Authority. The funds from this program would be re-allocated to the State Road Fund. This bill was approved by the House Committee on Roads and Transportation and will go to House Finance for discussion.
House Bill 2205 (Eliminating heating oil for residential use from the Motor Fuel Excise Tax) would exempt heating oil used for residential purposes from the Motor Fuel Excise Tax. This bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and is going to House Finance for discussion.
House Bill 2223 (Relating to the DEP Air Quality Board) would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to issue a legislative rule relating to Permits for Construction, Modification, Relocation and Operation of Stationary Sources of Air Pollutants, Notification Requirements, Administrative Updates, Temporary Permits, General Permits, Permission to Commence Construction and Procedures for Evaluation. The bill was approved by the House Energy Committee and is going to House Judiciary for more discussion.
House Bill 2265 (Medicine, WV Board of Licensure, Disciplinary and Complaint Procedures, Continuing Education, Physician Assistants) would authorize the Board of Medicine to issue a legislative rule relating to Licensure, Disciplinary and Complaint Procedures, Continuing Education, Physician Assistants. The bill was approved by the Committee of Health and Human Resources and is being discussed in House Judiciary.
House Bill 2123 (Making the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind eligible to participate in any and all funding administered or distributed by the West Virginia School Building Authority) would make the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind eligible to participate in any and all funding administered or distributed by the West Virginia School Building Authority. The bill was approved by the Education Committee and will be discussed in the Finance Committee.
House Bill 2447 (Rename Court of Claims) would rename the Court of Claims as the state Claims Commission, rename the judges as commissioners. It modifies definitions and provides explicit powers for the removal of commissioners. It would provide authority to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance for hiring a clerk, chief deputy clerk, and deputy clerks. This bill was discussed in the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 2103 (Making changes to the definition of contractor for purposes of the West Virginia Contractor License Act) would raise the amount required for a licensed contractor to do a construction job from $2,500 to $4,000. This bill was approved by the House Industry and Labor Committee and was sent to House Government Organization for discussion.