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Today in the Legislature

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - 02:47 PM

Caleb Hanna sworn in to West Virginia House of Delegates

Caleb Hanna was sworn in Wednesday morning in the West Virginia House of Delegates Chamber.

Hanna, of Richwood, is a republican delegate representing the 44th district, which covers parts of Nicholas, Randolph, Upshur, and Webster counties.

Justice Evan Jenkins swore him in. Hanna’s parents, Judy and Chuck, assisted. He was surrounded by family, friends, and eighth grade students from Sissonville Middle School.

Hanna is a full-time student, majoring in economics at West Virginia State University.



Monday, December 10, 2018 - 06:02 PM

Office of Chief Medical Examiner Administrative Director Discusses Caseload, Staffing

The West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has faced issues with an increasing caseload and staff shortages, the administrative director told legislators in Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.

Matthew Izzo, administrative director of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said the office is budgeted for six people, including the position of the chief medical examiner, Izzo said. There are currently two vacancies. Izzo said based on West Virginia’s caseload and national certification standards, the office should have 10 people.

Since the beginning of this year, the office has had 7,100 cases. Out of those, 2,150 are autopsies. The caseload has steadily increased through the years. Izzo said this year marks a 14 percent increase from the previous year and a 30 percent increase from the year before.

Izzo said certification standards recommend that one forensic pathologist should not complete more than 250 autopsies for year. But Izzo says the office “far exceeds that.” The chief medical examiner did 415 autopsies last year, Izzo said, and is on pace to complete more than that this year.

The forensic pathologist who had the lowest number still had more than the recommended amount, performing between 380-390 autopsies. And that was with taking five months of maternity leave, Izzo said. Izzo estimated all pathologists will perform more than double the accreditation standards by the end of the year.

One issue he sees is that West Virginia needs to position itself to recruit more forensic pathologist. This year, 27 have graduated from fellowships throughout the country, he said. Those 27 graduates attended fellowships from a few dozen programs in the country, Izzo said. He listed programs in New Mexico, Ohio, and Maryland. He said there are fellowship seats that go unfilled and there are people who complete the program who do not end up practicing forensic pathology. 

***

West Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Scott Pettry and Parkersburg Chief of Police Joseph Martin, also addressed the committee Monday, discussing protocols for responding to missing persons reports.

Pettry delved into the state’s statistics. This year, the West Virginia State Police reported 68 missing persons. There are 211 reported missing for more than a year.

Pettry explained the State Police follow national procedures for entering missing persons on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. In that database, there are six categories: Disability, endangered, involuntary, juvenile, catastrophe, and other.

As of Oct. 31, there are 36 that fall into the disability category, 40 in endangered, 16 in involuntary, 193 juvenile cases, two missing under the catastrophe category and 94 other cases.

The oldest case in the system goes back to 1979—a case out of Gauley Bridge.

Pettry talked about the NamUs database, which is a repository system on missing persons and unclaimed deceased. The database is searchable by anyone but sensitive data is only available to the coroner’s office and law enforcement.

“This is an avenue that allows families to enter key information into the system that law enforcement has access to along with the general public,” Pettry said.

Pettry said he wants to introduce NamUs to law enforcement, dispatchers, and all cadet classes. He said he wants to teach them how to use the system along with the benefits of using it.



Monday, December 10, 2018 - 03:44 PM

Muchow Urges Caution, Prudence, in Analyzing Strong Revenue Figures

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow urged lawmakers to use caution when analyzing West Virginia's increased revenue numbers, during a legislative interim meeting on Monday afternoon.

His presentation noted that a key part of revenue collections being above estimates is linked to the ongoing construction of several natural gas pipelines. Those projects are expected to be completed by the end of 2019, after which, he expects the personal income tax and sales tax revenue to drop off. Fortunately, the Roads to Prosperity program will bring about $500 million a year to the state for as many as six years.

West Virginia's revenue collections exceeded estimates by $18.8 million in November, putting the state at $141 million above estimates through the first five months of the fiscal year. Muchow said the state is on its way to a $200 million surplus by the end of June.

According to Muchow, the severance tax on coal is currently being helped by a strong export market. The price of natural gas has stayed steady this year but that could go down next year due to a surplus of natural gas in the market, a situation that’s expected to continue until the pipelines are in operation. Muchow reiterated that taxes from the extraction industries are up and down.

So far this year, severance tax collections are 34.2 percent above where they were at this time in 2017. Consumer sales tax collections at $121.2 million were $5.8 ahead of estimates and severance tax collections finished November at $42.4 million, $7.8 million ahead of estimates. Personal income tax collections for November were $135.6 million, $7.3 above estimates.

 



Monday, December 10, 2018 - 03:30 PM

PEIA Task Force Members Update Lawmakers on Work, Proposed Recommendations

Two members of the PEIA Task Force updated lawmakers on the task force’s work and proposed recommendations in Monday’s Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors, and Long Term Care. 

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice sent a list of recommendations to the Coverage and Plan Subcommittee, which reviewed and approved them earlier this week. These recommendations are:

  • Moving Plan A benefits back to 80/20 coinsurance in external bordering counties;
  • Moving Plan B benefits back to 70/30 coinsurance in external bordering counties;
  • Removing facility fee limits from out-of-state facilities;
  • Removing $25 copays for out-of-state services;
  • Adding an appeal process for people requiring non-preferred drugs allowing for reduced copays.
  • Reviewing wellness plans

The governor also proposed dedicating $100 million to the PEIA Stabilization Fund over the next two years.

Joe Letnaunchyn, chairman of the Cost and Revenue Subcommittee, and Rob Alsop, chair of the Coverage and Plan Subcommittee, went over these recommendations Monday morning.

Alsop said the PEIA Finance Board froze premiums so there would be no increase as a result of the 5 percent pay increase for state employees—some of whom could have moved up an income tier as a result of the raise.

The task force also looked into its 10 income tiers. Alsop said PEIA is an outlier because it has so many tiers. He said if tiers are collapsed, there is a risk that people within the lower tiers would pay more. He said any change to the tiers should be accompanied by a compensatory adjustment so people in the lower tiers would not have their take-home pay negatively affected.  

Alsop said the task force also has looked into wellness initiatives. People who reached out to the task force recommended wellness programs be incentives rather than penalties. He said the task force wants to look at PEIA’s programs and develop new wellness initiatives.

Alsop said people also have reached out, asking for an appeals process for prescription drugs. 

He said there are drugs that are not on PEIA’s preferred list, which are more expensive. There have been instances where a generic drug is not the best treatment and a person has to take a prescription that is not on the preferred list. People have asked for relief from the 90-day refill provision. Alsop said the maximum out-of-pocket for a prescription is $1,750 and fewer than 400 people hit that amount.

The full PEIA Task Force met Monday afternoon to look at the Plan and Coverage Recommendations. In that meeting, the task force adopted an amendment to make the copay 80/20 for out of state in-network providers. This would be for a period of a year. Members of the task force said this would cost an additional $6.2 million. This is different than the original recommendation in that it is not limited to contiguous counties. The Cost and Revenue Subcommittee is also scheduled to meet, followed by the full task force to adopt the final report.

 



Monday, December 10, 2018 - 10:21 AM

Audit Reveals Faiulures of WV Emergency Management Office

An audit of the state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management presented to the Post Audit Subcommittee on Sunday, revealed the agency did not apply for $12 million of available federal funding for staffing and training needs.

The agency also failed to draw down more than $8 million of other federal grant money available, much of which was owed to local county and city governments, according to the audit.

Nick Browning, a senior researcher with the Legislative Auditor's office told the committee that DHSEM has not established an effective internal control environment over the administration of federal grants.

Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred warned lawmakers that DHSEM has been under heightened scrutiny since early 2016 because of a failure to meet the federal government's grant requirements. Leaders charged with overseeing that agency told lawmakers in response that they were unaware that the Federal Emergency Management Agency started penalizing the state with a "manual reimbursement" policy.

DHSEM is required to submit a yearly financial audit to the Division of Finance, by a certain deadline. This is required of state agencies that receive a large sum of federal dollars. According to Browning, DHSEM was one of the last agencies to submit its financial information over the last several years. Twice in the past several years, the agency submitted its information more than 170 days late.

According to the audit, DHSEM’s former director noted the agency did have adequate staff to complete these tasks in a timely manner, and that he did not hire additional staff because of the State’s hiring freeze and the length of time it takes the Division of Personnel to process hiring actions. However, the audit also states that funding for hiring staff is available under the Public Assistance grants program.

That money, dollars which came 100 percent from the federal government and does not require a match from the state, can pay for salary, benefits and rent for office space. Of the $13.8 million that was available to DHSEM, the audit found that the state only applied for and spent about $1.1 million.

 



Sunday, December 09, 2018 - 05:41 PM

Chief Technology Officer Discusses Cyber Security

Josh Spence, chief technology officer with the West Virginia Office of Technology, is proposing legislation to be drafted to address cyber security in the state.

Spence and Stan Partlow, vice president and chief security officer at American Electric Power, addressed legislators in Sunday’s Select Committee on Infrastructure.

Spence asked legislators to consider supporting the Secure West Virginia Act. This act would establish risk management methodology and a framework for assessing agencies’ risk. It would collect data and determine where areas of risk exist within state government.

 “The cyber threat is real. The cyber threat is here and the time to act is now,” Spence said.



Friday, December 07, 2018 - 04:17 PM

John Hott sworn in to West Virginia House of Delegates

John Paul Hott was sworn in Friday afternoon in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber. House Clerk Steve Harrison swore him in.

 

Hott was accompanied by his wife Karen and children, Brooke Elizabeth, John Paul III, Sarah Ann, and Raphael Heber.

Hott, of Petersburg, is a republican member representing the 54th district, which covers Grant County and parts of Mineral and Pendleton counties.

He owns an insurance agency and a disposal service company. He has a bachelor’s in education from Fairmont State University, and his master’s in administration and supervision from Frostburg State University.



Friday, December 07, 2018 - 01:52 PM

Scott Cadle Sworn in to House of Delegates

Scott Cadle was sworn in to the West Virginia House of Delegates Friday morning.

Justice Evan Jenkins swore Cadle in and Emily Adkins, an 11th grader from Lincoln County High School held the Bible. Adkins and her class were taking a tour of the Capitol and were in the House during the ceremony.

Cadle, of Letart, is a Republican member representing the 13th district, which covers parts of Jackson, Mason and Putnam counties. He previously served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 2012-2016. He is in the trucking business.



Thursday, December 06, 2018 - 05:07 PM

Patrick Martin, Carl “Robbie” Martin, sworn in to House of Delegates

Patrick Martin and brother Carl “Robbie” Martin” were sworn in to the West Virginia House of Delegates Thursday afternoon. Judge Kurt Hall, circuit judge from the 26th district covering Upshur and Lewis counties, swore both of them in.

Patrick Martin, of Weston, is a republican member representing the 46th district, which covers Lewis County and part of Upshur County. He first was elected in 2016 to the House of Delegates. 

Carl “Robbie” Martin, of Buckhannon, is a republican member representing the 45th district, which covers part of Upshur County. He previously has served on the Upshur County Board of Education. He received his bachelor’s in business management from West Virginia Wesleyan.



Monday, December 03, 2018 - 11:31 AM

Two Sworn into West Virginia House of Delegates

Two delegates were sworn in Monday morning in the West Virginia House of Delegates Chamber.

Randy Swartzmiller, of Chester, was officially sworn in at 10 a.m. Swartzmiller is a democratic member representing District 1, which covers Hancock County and part of Brooke County.

Swartzmiller first was elected in 2000 and served until 2014. During his tenure, he served as assistant majority whip from 2005-2013 and as speaker pro tempore. He also chaired the Homeland Security Committee, which was created shortly after September 11.

Swartzmiller worked for the Department of Agriculture from 2015-2017.

Swartzmiller earned his bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College and his master’s from Mountain State University.

“I’m certainly honored to be back. I look forward to working with everyone to move West Virginia forward,” Swartzmiller said.

Larry Kump, of Falling Waters, also was sworn in Monday morning. Kump is a republican member representing District 59, which covers part of Berkeley and Morgan counties.

His swearing-in was ceremonial because the West Virginia Secretary of State had not yet certified all votes from that district.

Kump first was elected in 2010 and served until 2014 in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

“There are still things that need to be done,” Kump said. “It’s both a sacrifice and a privilege to serve. I’m pleased and proud to do it.”

Kump earned his bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University and an associate’s degree from Hagerstown Community College.

He also has served as the executive director of the Indiana State Employees Association and as the regional president of the Assembly of Governmental Employees.




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