by MADISON PERDUE and JULIET THOMAS
The second session of the 84th Legislature seems to be starting off different than previous years.
House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, agree that this session is starting off slow but there are some popular bipartisan bills that are up for discussion in the House.
This includes House Bill 4004, creating the West Virginia Sentencing Committee (WVSC). The commission has many duties, including researching second look sentencing. This process grants judges the ability to reexamine lengthy and excessive prison sentences, and possibly resentence at their discretion. The bill also authorizes the WVSC to research fair and uniform sentencing and prevent discrimination against offenders in the system. Racial, economic, ethnic, and social factors are included in the definition of discrimination. Both Republicans and Democrats have shown their support for this bill in committee meetings and in the floor session, passing the House Wednesday.
"This bill is definitely important because we have a real problem of prison overpopulation. We're hoping this bill will tackle that," Summers said.
Another bill is House Bill 4094, relating to the Foster Care Ombudsman. This bill gained bipartisan support starting in the Health and Human Resources Committee. With more than 7,000 children in the West Virginia foster care system, lawmakers agree that it's time for a change.
While there are several improvements that this bill seeks to make, one of the main points talked about in the Health and Human Resources Committee was the increase in payment for foster care parents and kinship families. These families receive monthly dividends per child to pay for services they provide, and House Bill 4094 increases their monthly pay. This bill was passed with amendments in the Health Committee, passed in the Judiciary Committee, and will go to Finance next before being reported to the full floor. Summers also said Republican leadership has focused on restructuring some of the scheduling of the session. Subject matter committees have doubled their meeting hours.
"It's important to let these subject committees have more time to meet and work on what they need to," Summers said.
Leadership is also working on moving remarks to the end of the day, rather than during the end of floor sessions. This would save time that might otherwise infringe on committee time.
Miley says that House Democrats will be focused on education and childcare issues during the session. This includes proposed legislation that would expand vocational career schools to middle schools, and "Stay in the state" tax incentives for college graduates.
"It's time that we put West Virginia first," he said. "We need to stop focusing on out-of-state interests and hoping this will attract others to our state."
There are also other bills up for discussion that seek to make improvements to the criminal justice and foster care system, including House Bill 2922, which was passed Friday; House Bill 4080, which is before the House Health and Human Resources Committee, and House Bill 4092, which is pending before House Judiciary.
On Wednesday, the Senate held a brief press conference led by President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, discussing the priorities of this year's legislative session.
Carmichael opened with an enthusiastic introduction, congratulating West Virginia in its progress from the previous year. One of the main efforts he recognized included job creation, and Carmichael stated that this was a priority the Senate wanted to expand this year. One of the steps he expects the Senate to take is the removal of the business inventory tax.
Other priorities included the development and improvement of transportation and infrastructure, which would include fixing roads in a more effective and timely manner.
The Senate also discussed efforts to improve the lives of families and children affected by poverty and the opioid epidemic in the state. In response to this issue, the Senate formed the Select Committee on Children and Families, which will cover issues such as foster care and adoption, along with other social work issues.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said that the Democratic platform for this session focuses on interests shared by both parties.
One of his main concerns is education. Prezioso says that one of the goals of the session is to encourage the integration of VOTEC and trade skill programs in middle schools and high schools.
Prezioso said implementing more skills-based programs into school curriculums and presenting more career options for young people is a way to keep graduates in West Virginia.
Another issue he addressed is creating healthcare programs in the state, focusing on smoking and cardiovascular health. This would include more education on heart disease and illnesses from smoking in schools.
There is also focus on economic concerns, especially concerning small businesses. Prezioso said one of the goals this session is to encourage small businesses to succeed in West Virginia by potentially implementing tax breaks and loan interest programs. This could allow businesses to expand and hire more employees to encourage job growth in the state.
As of Friday, January 17, 2020, there have been 971 bills introduced in the House and 11 bills have been passed and now are before the Senate.
House Bill 3039 removes language from the current state code that limits the priority preference of children to ages 14 and older in family courts. The purpose of this bill is to expand the court's consideration to children of all ages that meet the maturity requirement.
House Bill 4004 would create the West Virginia Sentencing Commission and specify its powers and duties. The commission would be responsible for fulfilling needs for fair and uniform sentencing, a fair operation of the criminal justice system, established priorities regarding the severity of criminal offenses and the use of limited resources to fulfill the goal of criminal punishment. The purpose of this bill is to promote a better understanding of the state's criminal justice sentencing system.
House Bill 4007 is known as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The purpose of this bill is to require a physician to use reasonable medical judgment if a child is born alive when an abortion is performed.
House Bill 4022 is meant to clarify that the Chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission may also serve simultaneously as the Chancellor of the Council for Community and Technical College Education, to retitle the Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences as Senior Director of Health Sciences, and to abolish the statutory position of Vice Chancellor for State Colleges.
House Bill 4103 is meant to clarify the organizational structure of the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) within the Department of Health Human Resources. The goals outlined for ODCP within the bill are meant to create a plan reduce state-wide alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
House Bill 2922 would change the requirements for discharge for the possession of a controlled substance, specifically opiates or opioids. This bill would require a defendant, pleading or found guilty for the possession of such substances, to participate in a court-ordered drug court or drug treatment program under the court's authorization.
House Bill 2679 would permit the issuance of a state issued identification card without a photo. This would be based on the certification that taking photographs violates a religious belief.
House Bill 2602 includes possession of known stolen property in the offense of receiving or transferring stolen property. This bill provides an exception for certain purchasers of scrap metal.
House Bill 2924 permits the West Virginia Tourism Office to contract with the Division of Highways to sell advertising space on the WV511 website to promote in state tourism. This will permit 50 percent of the funds from sales to be deposited in the Tourism Promotion Fund; and requiring 50 percent of the funds from such sale be remitted to the Division of Highways.
House Bill 4010 changes the licensing requirement for certain casino employees from a licensure to a registration.
House Bill 4042 requires agencies exempt from some or all of state purchasing requirements to adopt procedural rules establishing their purchasing procedures.
House Bill 2696 creates a naming convention to records lands owned by the state in an index system for easy cross-reference to county indexes.
House Bill 4062 reduces the cost of prescription drugs by requiring a pharmacy benefit manager to pass through to the consumer certain compensation received from a pharmaceutical manufacturer, developer or labeler to be used for benefit of covered persons.
House Bill 4091 House Bill 4091 has the purpose to allow for expedited oil and gas well permitting upon payment of expedited fees. This bill encourages the development of a faster process for horizontal wells.
House Bill 4096 requires candidates to live in the state or local election district for the office for which they are seeking to be elected. The definition of "principal residence" is considered as the residence where the candidate has a physical residency with proof of intent to remain in the state, district, county, or municipality.
House Bill 4017 establishes country roads accountability and transparency to the public. The bill directs the State Auditor to develop and maintain a website for the public to search (without cost) ongoing expenditures and locations for state and public road work.
House Bill 4020 removes authority of municipalities to require occupational licensure if licensure for the occupation is required by the state. This creates a uniform licensure process authorized by the state to avoid extra fees and paperwork.
House Bill 4108 streamlines the certificate on need exemption process in the healthcare industry.
House Bill 4130 provides that contracts for construction projects due to declared states of emergency may be bid on an open-ended basis and may utilize a multiple contract award approach. This also prohibits the award of contracts to debarred contractors.
House Bill 4141 requires the Department of Administration to publish its annual financial report by the end of December of the year from which the fiscal year reported upon ended.
As of Friday, January 17, 2020, 534 bills have been introduced to the Senate. Of those bills, seven have passed to the House for further consideration.
SB 16 creates the Protect Our Right to Unite Act. This protects the rights of individuals to privately assemble with advocacy groups that represent that person's beliefs. The bill declares that compelled disclosure of an advocacy group's membership lists or donors trespasses on freedoms provided by the Fourteenth Amendment.
SB 35 would limit the civil penalty for littering to $2,000 or less
SB 42 allows county boards of education to permit faith-based electives in drug prevention programs in schools. This is part of legislative efforts to educate public schools on drug abuse prevention and violence reduction.
SB 46 would declassify pepper spray as a deadly weapon and allow all persons over 16 years of age to carry it in the West Virginia Capitol building. Senator Rucker of Jefferson county proposed that the bill be amended to limit the amount of pepper spray allowed in the Capitol to 1 oz or lower, since this was not specified in the original draft of the bill
SB 94's purpose is to provide people with disabilities with the ability to vote via electronic absentee ballot. Under the bill, qualifying voters would automatically receive access to the electronic absentee ballot without having to reapply.
SB 96 would prohibit municipalities from placing limitations on the right to purchase, transfer, possess, sell or carry deadly weapons or pepper spray in any way that conflicts with state laws. The bill would also restrict the award of reasonable attorney costs to petitioners seeking redress under this law, to only those who succeed.
SB 140 would grant judges of the Supreme Court and circuit courts an allowance as compensation for having to travel certain distances in their own vehicle.
SB 161's purpose is to improve the repair and maintenance of state highways and roads. This bill will initiate the Enhanced Road Repair and Maintenance Program, as well as the Special Road Repair Fund.
SB 170 would alleviate double taxation on foreign income at the state level. The bill also sunsets the credit for income tax paid on foreign wages in 2069.
SB 207 would create the Prosecuting Attorney's Detectives Act. This bill would allow prosecuting attorneys to hire detectives, provide compensation for prosecuting attorneys' detectives, and establish the duties and powers of those detectives
SB 211 discusses unlawful discrimination covered by the Fair Housing Act and the Human Rights Act. This bill will prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodation places towards people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
SB 230 discusses suicide prevention in schools. The bill would require the State Board of Education to provide all professional educators, including administration and staff in contact with students, with instruction on recognizing warning signs and resources for student suicide prevention
SB 248 would repeal law that requires additional registration fees on vehicles that use alternative fuels, a topic which has been considered controversial among West Virginia drivers.
SB 284 would create the "Health Care Continuity Act". The purpose of this bill is to reinforce the standards of healthcare coverage plans, make sure they remain affordable, and aren't defined by the existence of preexisting conditions. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.
SB 303 would initiate the "Students' Right to Know Act". The bill would require the state Board of Education to collect and communicate information on career landscapes for high school students. The purpose of the bill is to make students more aware of the costs of four-year colleges as well as alternative career paths. The bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
SB 310 updates certain technical details of WV code, update the meaning of federal gross income, specify specific dates, and updates terms in the West Virginia Personal Income Tax Act.
SB 314 would require insurance policies to provide certain emergency allergy medicine to persons 18 years or younger. The medication, injectable epinephrine, would come at no cost for the individual as long as the medication has been prescribed
SB 317 would create the Board for Professional Geologists. The Board would present rules for legislative approval, representing various geological interests in West Virginia
SB 499 would work to eliminate barriers for employment to people with criminal records. The bill would make licensure and certifications less difficult to obtain for a person with a criminal record, though certain restrictions apply. The bill lays out criteria for commissioners for license approval and removal.
SB 504 provides that forensic evidence in sexual assault is collected, submitted, tested and processed in a timely manner. The bill states that sexual assault forensic examination kits must be collected by healthcare providers and sent to the WV State Police Forensics Lab.