The Joint Committee on Government and Finance plans to prioritize transparency in the state government's investments, at the request of Auditor-Elect John McCuskey.
As state revenues decline and expenses increase, McCuskey said the legislature has a "real opportunitity" to change how it deals with financial information to the benefit of West Virginia's citizens.
With more transparency, McCuskey said all citizens will be able to serve as auditors for the state rather than just himself.
McCuskey suggests the Committee begin prioritizing transparency by modernizing the system through which financial information is organized and made available to both citizens and legislators alike. He said the new online system will change how the legislature spends money when it is consistently exposed to civillian oversight, thereby making a necessary change to the "culture" of state government.
Members of technololgy business OpenGov were also in attendance and presented on their ideas for improving West Virginia's financial transparency through their online database program.
OpenGov Account Executive Jared Borg shared his insights as a former director in Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel's office to help the Committee understand OpenGov's capabilities for reviving transparency.
Borg said, because of Ohio's prioritization of transparency with the help of OpenGov technology, Ohio now ranks number one in the nation for government transparency after having previously been at number 46.
Because of increased accessibility to Ohio's government information, Borg said the state gained 11.5 million "civillian auditors." He said West Virginia can do the same.
The Committee had no questions for either McCuskey or the OpenGov representatives.
The Committee plans to meet again on Tuesday, February 7, 2017.
The House of Delegates met today for the first day of the 2017 Regular Session to organize, choose officers, recognize resolutions pertaining to the rules of the House of Delegates, and introduce bills.
The House was presided over by Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, the longest serving member
Following nominations, members elected Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, as the Speaker of the House for the 83rd West Virginia Legislature with a voting majority of 63 delegates against fellow nomination Tim Miley, D-Harrison, Speaker Armstead was then sworn in by West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker.
After the re-election of the Speaker of the House, Steve Harrison was elected House Clerk.
Marshall Clay, after the re-election of the clerk, was nominated then elected to be the House Sergeant of Arms and following Clay’s re-election, Frank Larese was nominated then re-elected to House Doorkeeper.
After the elections, the House went into recess in preparation of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s farewell address, and after the farewell address, the House adopted Senate Concurrent Resolutions and adopted House Resolutions.
The house will adjourn until noon February 8.
The West Virginia Senate convened the First Regular Session of the 83rd Legislature today at noon.
Sen. Donna Boley (R – Pleasants) presided over the beginning of the organizational session as the Senate’s longest-serving member.
Following the presentation of election results by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the swearing in of newly elected senators by Chief Justice Allen Loughry II, members of the Senate nominated and elected Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R – Jackson) by acclimation to serve as President of the Senate.
Following the election of the President, Clark Barnes was reelected Senate Clerk, Andrew Palmer was reelected Senate Sergeant at Arms and Jeffrey Branham was reelected Doorkeeper. All were unanimously approved.
The Senate also adopted several resolutions relating to the Senate Rules and other organizational matters.
The Senate is adjourned until members reconvene February 8, 2017, for the start of the session.
The Joint Committee on Health met to discuss the Suspicious Ordering Policy of wholesalers to pharmacies.
Executive Director of the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, David Potters, said the rule was copied directly from the DEA in 1985. The rule states that wholesalers shall submit a Suspicious Order Report when there is a change in size, quantity or a deviation from prior orders. Potters said the rule is vague and it needs to be better defined in order to cut down on drug addiction but continue to provide the drugs to those who need them. The rule wasn’t enforced however until 2012, bringing up the question of what other rules aren’t being enforced.
Committee Chair Sen. Ryan Ferns, R – Ohio, suggested the Board of Pharmacy come up with a new rule to directly tackle the drug addiction problem and won’t affect those who legitimately need the prescriptions.
Chair Delegate Joe Ellington, R – Mercer, requested that a record of the past four years be brought to the committee to see if the rules of the Board of Pharmacy have been reviewed in that time.
Melinda Walls, Assistant Vice President of West Virginia University’s Launch Lab, spoke to the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee today to introduce the Launch Lab Program and a few of its students. The Launch Lab is a center to help student vet ideas and connect them with the resources to turn their ideas into reality.
Jordan Masters, Emily Wells, and Micah Allen presented their ideas and businesses to the committee and explained how the Launch Lab benefited them in their endeavors.
Kent Leonhardt, Commissioner of Agriculture-elect, presented a few of his ideas for the Department of Agriculture. He said he wants people to remember that agriculture is a business. He wants to bring forestry back to the Department of Agriculture.
Leonhardt said he wants to start small, because slow change is permanent change.
The committee also approved the 2016-2017 final report.
Janie Ward, one of the Directors of Air Evac Life Team, spoke to the committee on the Joint Government Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency on her opinion of the regulation of emergency services, or EMS, in West Virginia.
Ward was accompanied with former nurse Steve McLure and the Chairman of Kentucky's Emergency Medical Services Joe Bradshaw.
The group of speakers voiced there own concerns with the autonamy of West Virginia's EMS systems with issues ranging from decisions that are made by EMS, without public approval, to how West Virginia's demanding criteria for paramedics could be creating a short supply of certified paramedics.
Speaking on behalf of West Virginia's EMS services was Mike Mills. Mills spoke out against the accusations saying that West Virginia's EMS services was not autonamous and that many of the issues that were being addressed during the meeting were either already fixed or in the proccess of being changed.
A committee will be created to further explore options with West Virginia's EMS services in the near future.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability and the Select Committee on Infrastructure addressed concerns toward the DOH's alleged decision to retain private counsel in a lawsuit brought against WV Paving.
Commission Counsel Marty Wright argues the DOH has defied certain provisions of the WV Code 5-3-3A, which require the DOH to seek legal counsel or ask permission to use outisde legal counsel from the Attorney General's office. Attorney Michael Folio claims on behalf of the DOH that the department has involved the Attorney General in the process and has not invested "a single dollar" toward the outside counsel it originally sought.
Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R - Jackson, informed Folio of his concerns regarding the DOH's original intentions in seeking outside counsel, asking why the DOH believed they had the authority to not include the Attorney General's office in the legal process.
Folio said he believes the DOH "absolutely" has the authority to do so when necessary, also stating the DOH chose to seek outside counsel to find a "level of expertise that may not exist with the Attorney General" toward the lawsuit. However, Folio said the DOH is now working with the Attorney General, who is drafting a plea on behalf of the DOH.
Delegate Gearheart, R - Mercer, questioned why the DOH is just now going to the Attorney General, to which Folio said the Attorney General had been extensively involved through the whole process.
The Commission decided to consult the Attorney General upon further review.
The Joint Committee on Children and Families heard from Bruce Perrone, WV Legal Aid Counsel today. He discussed the issue of grandparents' rights with the committee.
He explained to the commitee that the decision of "fit" parents would now be considered in court cases involving grandparents attempting to gain visitation rights.
This is to limit the courts' interference of a "fit" parent's parenting.
The current statute is that if the parent through whom the grandparent is related is present in the child's life, then the grandparent shouldn't need a court order to gain visitation. The grandparent should speak with the parent of the child.
If the parent through whom the grandparent is related is not present in the child's life, then a court order may be needed to gain visitation with the child.
A protected provision in the law involving grandparents' rights states that no child shall be called as a witness in these cases and no child shall be asked to make a statement of preference.
Cases can vary due to uniqueness of situations.
During the committee meeting, Sara Jones, Research Analyst for the House Committee on Health and Human Resources, also presented the final report from 2016. She stated there were no committee recommendations for legislation for the 2017 session.
Tax Reform Subcommittee A discussed tax reform for natural resource companies who drill or would like to drill in the state.
"We tend to export our natural recources but don't receive the full benefit. How can we capture the downstream benefits," said Sen. Ron Stollings, D - Boone.
Oil and gas tax expert Donald Nestor said once the wells are drilled they can't move them, and they would bring more revenue to the area.
Delegate Eric Householder, R - Berkeley, asked about how large of a difference the 5 percent higher tax rate in West Virginia makes when compared to other states.
Nestor said it is hard to convince the industry to move to West Virginia because of this discrepancy. He also said that this is important because West Virginia has a future with natural gas, as the state seems to have "more than enough" natural gas resources available.
Today, Delegatses Dave Pethtel and Ben Queen were sworn into the House of Delegates.
Pethtel, D-Wetzel, was sworn in at 10 a.m. as the delegate of the 5th District.
He was sworn in by House Clerk Stephen J. Harrison. Pethtel was elected to his first term in the House of Delegates in 1988 and has collectively served over 20 years.
Pethtel is a retired school teacher and graduated with an M.A. from West Virginia University.
At 12:30 p.m., Queen was sworn into the House of Delegates by House Speaker Tim Armstead.
Queen will be representing the 46th District. At age 21, he is one of the youngest to serve in the West Virginia Legislature and a Fourth generation public official.
Queen was accompanied by his father, Mike Queen, mother, Paula Carter, aunts, Christy Thompson and Leslie Pruitt, and girlfriend, Hannah Griffith.