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Today in the Legislature

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 04:14 PM

House Judiciary Committee begins impeachment process

The House Judiciary Committee met shortly following the House of Delegate’s adjournment Tuesday to start the impeachment process.

 

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Legislature convened its second special session. The House immediately took up and adopted House Resolution 201, investigating allegations of impeachable offenses against the Chief Justice and justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

 

The House Judiciary Committee is tasked with determining evidence to see if impeachable offenses have occurred.

 

Members heard from committee attorney Brian Casto, who presented a history of the impeachment process and detailed how the process works.

 

Legislators also heard from Marc Harman, who served in the House of Delegates during the 1989 impeachment of A. James Manchin. Harman shared his experience through that process.

 

“What you are about to undertake will not be pleasant but I hope you will rise to the occasion,” Harman told legislators. “What has happened has happened. I think you can define us as a state by how you handle it.”

 

Committee Chair Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee will issue a subpoena to the Judicial Investigation Commission. Committee members are also scheduled to meet with the Legislative Auditor’s office.

 

Shott said the committee will meet as early as July 9 but no later than July 16.

 



Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 04:12 PM

Joint Committee on Flooding

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer addressed the Joint Committee on Flooding Tuesday to give updates on efforts moving forward. Hoyer said he is moving with deliberate speed to address issues.

 

Hoyer said there were 1,200 initial applications, 451 cases that met HUD requirements, and as of Tuesday, 350 have been reviewed.

 

He said 22 structures are on site, some of which families have the keys to and some of them, people are in the process of signing off on finalizing the construction management process.

 

He said by next week, he hopes to draft a document to purchase for the Slum and Blight Removal Program, which involves demolishing structures either flooded or in a flood affected area.

 

“We are trying to focus on pushing that quickly,” he said. “If we remove structures, it helps us to bring property values up in the community as well as moving forward. It’s an important aspect of what we’re doing.”

 

He said currently, there is $2 million from HUD for the bridge program. However, he said the state needs $3.5 million to complete all the bridges in the system.

 

“Once we get on focus, we can go to HUD to put more money into the bridge program so we can clear out all 133 bridges,” Hoyer said.

 

Two people from the West Virginia Development Office – Mary Jo Thompson and Russell Tarry – were scheduled to speak to the committee.

 

However, a representative from the West Virginia Department of Commerce said they had previously resigned, hours after confirming they would attend Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions related to the RISE program.  

 

Adam Fridley, audit manager with the Legislative Auditor’s office, also addressed legislators Tuesday. Fridley presented an audit examining the Rise program. The audit found the state Development Office likely entered into six illegal contracts with Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based accounting and advisory firm, at a cost of about $18 million.

 

The audit also found the Development Office entered into seven construction contracts, totaling more than $71 million, for home rehabilitation, reconstruction, and replacement services under RISE, which the audit said violated state and federal law.



Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 02:09 PM

Legislature Convenes Special Session to Consider State Supreme Court Impeachment

The West Virginia Legislature convened the second special session of 2018 on Tuesday afternoon.

The House of Delegates immediately took up and adopted House Resolution 201 , investigating allegations of impeachable offenses against the Chief Justice and justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, offered an amendment to the resolution dealing with a timeline of making a decision on potential impeachment. Sponaugle referenced an Aug. 14 deadline, which is the deadline to have a decision made to have a special election in November to fill any vacancy created.

Sponaugle’s amendment was rejected on a 32-57 vote.

The House adopted House Resolution 201 on a 89-0 vote.

The House is adjourned until called back into session by Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley.

The Senate quickly gaveled in and out, adjourning until the House finishes its impeachment work. The Senate serves as the jury in the trial phase of impeachment proceedings.

The House Judiciary is currently meeting to discuss impeachment proceedings

 

 



Monday, June 25, 2018 - 05:30 PM

Updated - Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary looks into impeachment procedure

 

After the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary recessed to address concerns regarding procedure for impeachment proceedings, legislative leaders have requested Gov. Jim Justice to call the Legislature into a special session to allow the House of Delegates to consider potential articles of impeachment against one or more members of the state Supreme Court.

 

Committee Co-Chair Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said following the committee’s Monday morning meeting, a conference was held where lawmakers determined the best way to go was to request the governor to call the Legislature into a special session on Tuesday.

 

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, later formally requested the governor to call the Legislature into a special session.

 

“We have met with the governor and the governor is agreeable to that,” Shott said.

 

Earlier Monday, committee members made various motions involving creating two subcommittees, establishing a timeline for meetings and decisions, and discussing procedure for voting on the motion to create the subcommittee.

 

The motion to establish the two subcommittees—one comprised of House Judiciary Committee members and one comprised of Senate Judiciary Committee members—was later withdrawn pending a call into a special session.

 

Members of the committee questioned whether the vote should be split with House members voting to create the House subcommittee and the Senate voting on its portion.

 

Shott mentioned concerns about the process.

 

“This is a serious situation,” Shott said. “it’s extremely important that we have bipartisan support from the get-go.”

 

If articles of impeachment are adopted by the House, it’s then sent to the Senate for an impeachment trial.

 

Shott said the committee is plowing new ground.

 

“We’ve had one impeachment proceeding in the history of the state,” Shott said. “There is not a lot of precedence on how to proceed.”

 

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, mentioned the Aug. 14 deadline. This is the deadline to have a special election this November to fill any vacancy created.

 

The committee also heard presentations detailing the process and function of several agencies that investigate and discipline public officials and public employees — the Ethics Commission, the Legislative Auditor’s Office, the West Virginia Auditor’s office, Department of Health and Human Resources Medical Fraud Unit, West Virginia Attorney General’s office, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Consolidated Retirement Board, Commission on Special Investigation, and the Judicial Investigation Commission.



Monday, June 25, 2018 - 05:04 PM

Legislative Auditor report looks into Supreme Court excess fund balance

 

A report from the Legislative Auditor’s office questioned the spend down of the West Virginia Supreme Court’s excess fund balance, which went from $29 million to $333,514 in four years.

 

 

 

Justin Robinson, manager with the Post Audit Division, presented the audit to lawmakers during Sunday’s Post Audits Subcommittee meeting.

 

According to the audit, the state Supreme Court had unused appropriated General Revenue Funds totaling $29 million in the 2012 fiscal year. This balance was reduced to $333,514 by the 2016 fiscal year. The audit said this was attributed to different reasons including renovations to the justice’s chambers and other court facilities.

 

“The Legislative Auditor is concerned with the Court’s accumulation of appropriated General Revenue Funds in the majority of the years reviewed, with particular regard to the fact that in five years, they had re-appropriated funds that went from $1.4 million in 2007 to $29 million in 2012,” the report said. “There is also concern over how these funds were subsequently spent down.”

 

The audit detailed the timeline:

 

  • In 2012, judges, justices and magistrates received pay raises, which totaled about $6.1 million. This was absorbed using re-appropriated funds from 2011. The court also decreased its appropriation request by $2 million. It carried over $22.7 million into the 2013 fiscal year.

  • In 2013, the court absorbed some of the previous year’s raises for judges, justices and magistrates from re-appropriated funds, totaling about $4.4 million. The audit said there also were unanticipated construction and furniture purchases for justices’ chambers, the business court, the City Center East server room, the Clerk’s office, and the justice’s conference room. The court also purchased technology, furniture and equipment for new family court spaces in several counties. The court re-appropriated about $15.25 million into the 2014 fiscal year.

  • In 2014, the court returned about $4 million to the General Revenue Fund to help with the budget shortfall and did not seek appropriation for about $10 million in expenditures, the report said.

  • In 2015, the court re-appropriated $333,514 to the 2016 fiscal year.

  • In 2016, the court re-appropriated about $1.2 million to the 2017 fiscal year including $2 million returned to the General Revenue fund for annual Judicial Retirement contributions.

 

 “How or why the court accumulated $29 million in excess General Revenue Funds in 2012 cannot fully be explained,” the audit said.

 

The Post Audit Division will continue to look into the increased spending and reduction of the excess funds.

 

Chief Justice Margaret Workman also addressed the subcommittee. She said some of the expenses involved computerizing court records. She said court computers also need to be updated often.

 

 “It’s a very expensive proposition to take court records from 55 different counties and develop case management systems that are consistent,” Workman said.

 

She also said there was a lot of money spent on renovations. Some of these expenses, she said, included heating, cooling and electric work.



Monday, June 25, 2018 - 02:42 PM

Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary looks into impeachment procedure

The Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary is looking into procedure for impeachment against any member of the state Supreme Court.

 

After members made various motions involving one creating two subcommittees, establishing a timeline for meetings and decisions, and discussing procedure for voting on the motion to create the subcommittees, the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary will stand in recess until 5 p.m. 

 

The main motion, if adopted, will establish two subcommittees—one comprised of House Judiciary Committee members and the other comprised of Senate Judiciary Committee members.

 

The House subcommittee will study whether a recommendation should be made to House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, to require the governor to call the Legislature into session to institute impeachment proceedings.

 

If articles of impeachment are adopted by the House, it’s then sent to the Senate for an impeachment trial.

 

Committee Co-Chair Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the committee is plowing new ground.

 

“We’ve had one impeachment proceeding in the history of the state,” Shott said. “There is not a lot of precedence on how to proceed.”

 

Members of the committee questioned whether the vote should be split with House members voting to create the House subcommittee and the Senate voting on its portion.

 

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, mentioned the Aug. 14. This is the deadline to have a special election this November to fill any vacancy created.

 

The committee also heard presentations detailing the process and function of several agencies that investigate and discipline public officials and public employees — the Ethics Commission, the Legislative Auditor’s Office, the West Virginia Auditor’s office, Department of Health and Human Resources Medical Fraud Unit, West Virginia Attorney General’s office, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Consolidated Retirement Board, Commission on Special Investigation, and the Judicial Investigation Commission.

 

The committee will reconvene at 5 p.m. in the House Chamber to take up these motions.



Sunday, June 24, 2018 - 06:50 PM

Legislative Auditor report examines Rise program contracts

 

The state Development Office entered into several illegal contracts under the Rise program and the legislative auditor’s office questioned whether homes have been completed under the program, a report from the Legislative Auditor’s Office found.

 

Adam Fridley, interim director of the Legislative Auditor’s Office presented the audit to lawmakers in Sunday’s Post Audits Subcommittee meeting.

 

The audit looked into contracts entered by the West Virginia Development Office and whether they complied with state and federal laws for using Community Development Block Grant—Disaster Recovery Funds.

 

The audit found two main issues. The first is that the Development Office entered into six illegal contracts with Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based accounting and advisory firm, at a cost of about $18 million, the audit said.

 

The second issue the audit found is that the Development Office entered into seven construction contracts, totaling more than $71 million, for home rehabilitation, reconstruction, and replacement services under Rise, which violated state and federal laws.

 

Fridley said Horne was in charge of developing a state action plan and assess unmet needs. The company was under contract at a total of $900,000 to provide these project management services. However, between May 2017 and February 2018, the Development Office entered into six additional task order agreements, costing about $18 million.

 

Fridley said these contracts should have been subject to competitive bidding requirements because they differed substantially from the original contract. He cited an opinion from Legislative Services that these contracts are void under state code.

 

Fridley told the committee the governor’s office ceased payments to Horne under the additional task orders and a new contract with Horne will be finalized at a cost of $9.4 million.

 

Fridley said the Development Office violated federal law with seven construction contracts entered with four different construction companies. These contracts were effective before the Development Office received authority from HUD to use grant funds.

 

The Development Office issued more than $700,000 in payments under these contracts and $400,000 in payments were issued before the office received authorization to use the money, according to the report.

 

The audit also found the Development Office did not comply with purchasing division requirement when it entered into these seven construction contracts.

 

The audit issued five recommendations:

 

  • The Development Office should seek repayment or credit against the new contract for money paid for the task order agreements

  • The Development Office should not issue payments for any work done under the invalid task order agreements

  • The Development Office should cease future payments under current construction contracts for the Rise program

  • The Development Office should terminate existing construction contracts and enter into new contracts that comply with federal and state law

  • The Development Office should work with HUD to resolve issues regarding funds that were spent before the office was authorized to do so.

 

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, asked Fridley about the status of construction performed under contracts.

 

“Nothing suggests reconstruction or rehabilitation under the program,” Fridley told legislators. “It appears all services rendered thus far were for mobile home replacement units.”

 

Armstead also asked for the status of applicants who either were approved and still do not have homes or applied and don’t know the status of those applications.

 

“For those who have applied and don’t know their status, my understanding in reading the policies and procedures is that this shouldn’t have been the case to begin with,” Fridley said. “Those who have had their applications approved and are waiting on reconstruction, rehabilitation of damaged homes, this could be a multitude of things—environmental reviews, other internal processes. The answer would be on a case-by-case basis.”

 

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, expressed his concern about the state potentially entering into a new contract with Horne LLP.

 

 

“We are continuing to do business with Horne even though they didn’t complete the requirements under their contract?”

 

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, asked about the intention of the Development Office entering the six illegal contracts with Horne. Fridley said it appeared to be a lack of awareness of the requirements of state and federal law.

 

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, asked to hear from a Department of Commerce representative. However, no one was there to speak.

 

“I am disappointed there is not someone here,” Carmichael said. "There will be someone here at the next meeting.”

 

A Commerce representative is scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding meeting, Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said.

 

Carmichael said he hopes the office will continue looking into the Rise program.

 

“I’m hoping this is a continuing audit under the Rise program and there is more to come,” Carmichael said. “This has been a horribly mismanaged program, in my view. It’s been two years post-flood and we still have all of these issues.”



Sunday, June 24, 2018 - 06:42 PM

PEIA Director updates lawmakers on town halls

 

Public Employees Insurance Agency Director Ted Cheatham updated lawmakers on feedback received from 21 town halls held across the state.

 

Cheatham presented these updates during Sunday’s Joint Committee on PEIA meeting. He said two wellness plans will be launched soon — a weight loss program and a diabetes program.

 

One popular topic in the town halls concerned funding sources for the plan, which needs an additional $50 million a year to remain where it is now.

 

Cheatham said people who spoke at the town halls suggested several options including an additional severance tax, sugar tax, and re-instating the food tax. The cost and revenue subcommittee will address potential revenue sources, which the Legislature will ultimately need to pass to become law, Cheatham said. 

 

He said people also expressed concern about premium increases and getting treatment from bordering out-of-state hospitals.

 

Cheatham also updated lawmakers about the recent tier changes to prevent about 14,000 people who would be moved to an increased tier from the 5 percent pay raise. 

 

The Public outreach subcommittee will meet Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Governor’s Cabinet Conference Room in Charleston to recap the statewide listening tour.




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