The House Judiciary Committee met Friday afternoon to discuss two bills that previously passed the House.
Before the committee’s discussion on these two bills though, the committee briefly discussed and amended House Bill 2185, which is a bill that relates to the removal of animals left unattended in cars. The committee discussed the bill in its morning meeting but took the bill up again to address an amendment.
After an amendment to this bill was adopted, the committee then voted to send it to the House.
The next bill the committee took up was House Bill 2183, this bill would clarify where a charge of DUI may be brought against a person. This would allow people who are under the influence and driving on their own property to be protected from DUIs and drunk driving offenses, unless injury is caused to another person.
However, if a person crosses over into private property or a road/highway, then charges would be allowed. The committee passed this bill reported it to the floor.
Finally, the committee reviewed House Bill 2184 which removes restrictions on where traditional lottery games may be played. This bill deals with the game “KENO,” which is currently offered in establishments that serve alcohol such as beer and liquor retailers as well as liquor stores.
Recently, the Lottery Commission allowed Buffalo Wild Wings the rights for customers to play the game. The bill would remove all restrictions on where the game is played and would make it available at any lottery retailer. The game wasn’t restricted until 1994. A lottery official who presented to the committee said it was possibly taken off of the publicly playable list because of private interest.
A similar bill also has been introduced in the Senate and is scheduled for first reading on Monday.
The committee will meet again on Monday, Janurary 14 at 10 a.m.
Two bills reported out of the House Judiciary Committee Friday, dealing with rescuing animals left unattended in vehicles and a bill clarifying the law related to appeals to the state Supreme Court.
In Friday morning’s meeting, the House Judiciary Committee took up House Bill 2185, which relates to removing animals left unattended in vehicles if their lives are in danger. The committee also took up House Bill 2164, which clarifies that appeals to the state Supreme Court are a matter of right.
The committee reported House Bill 2164 to the full House, recommending passage. House Bill 2185 was also referenced to the House Committee on Finance but members of the Judiciary Committee adopted a motion to request the dispensing of that second committee reference.
The committee adopted a strike and insert to House Bill 2185 to reflect a similar bill passed out of committee last session. Last session’s bill passed 96-1 in the House but died in the Senate. This bill seeks to address the problem of rescuing unattended animals in dangerous or deadly situations.
The bill permits Emergency Medical Service workers, humane officers, law enforcement and fire departments to rescue these animals. Under this bill, these people will be immune from criminal or civil liability resulting from removing the animal. However, the bill does not include members of the public as authorized to remove an animal from the vehicle.
These people are permitted to enter the vehicle if an animal is at risk of exposure to extreme temperatures or insufficient ventilation. However, they may not search the vehicle or seize items from the vehicle unless illegal substances are in plain sight.
There are 28 states that have laws prohibiting confining animals in vehicles under dangerous circumstances. Only West Virginia and New Jersey carry criminal penalties for mistreating animals, according to statistics presented by committee counsel.
The bill imposes gradated penalties varying on a case-by-case basis. One of the penalties Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, questioned dealt with prohibiting people from owning or living with an animal for five years following a misdemeanor conviction and 15 years following a felony conviction.
Fast proposed an amendment, which was adopted, to reflect a hypothetical situation of a farmer convicted regarding one animal. Fast's amendment would give the judge discretion whether the farmer in this situation would have to remove all animals from his or her farm, following such a conviction.
The committee adopted two other amendments— one clarifying the language to reflect that an agent would have to act in their official capacity in removing the animal from the vehicle, and another amendment to clarify that payment plans would be arranged for fees.
The second bill, House Bill 2164, clarifies current court policy that appeals are a matter of right to the state Supreme Court. A similar bill passed unanimously in the House last year.
This bill codifies existing practice of the state Supreme Court but recognizes the Legislature endorses the court’s policy.
The bill states that all appeals will be afforded full, meaningful review, an opportunity to be heard by the state Supreme Court, and a written decision on the merits to be issued. If a litigant appeals a decision, the court must hear the appeal and must issue a memorandum decision reflecting the final disposition of the case.
The committee reported this bill to the full House.
The House Finance Committee heard a presentation from the West Virginia Lottery Commission in a Friday morning meeting, regarding their financial standing and projections for the fiscal years of 2019 and 2020.
John Myers, the Director for the West Virginia Lottery Commission, gave a yearly update and revenue status for the organization, which brought the state $25 billion in gross revenue for the last fiscal year.
Myers cited challenges that the West Virginia Lottery has faced in the past year that have impacted revenues. One major challenge that Myers discussed is the current influx of casinos that neighboring states such as Kentucky and Maryland have embraced, providing competition for West Virginia’s casinos. Another challenge greatly impacting the West Virginia Lottery is the lack of people going into gas and convenience store locations to purchase scratch-off tickets, an activity that provided a lot of momentum for the commission during its peak in 2007.
The West Virginia Lottery Commission is a crucial entity for providing a large portion of their excess revenue via statutory distribution requirements to economic sectors such as higher education and veteran’s affairs. Last year, 32.05 percent of the lottery’s excess funds went to counties and municipalities. Additionally, $400,000 of Lottery excess funds go to Veteran’s Affairs annually.
Despite the financial challenges facing the organization due to multiple socioeconomic factors, the West Virginia Lottery Commission has exceeded their revenue projections so far for this year. According to the State of West Virginia’s Fiscal Year of 2020 Executive Budget Report, the Lottery Commission is due to appropriate around $290 million during the year of 2019, and have an estimated unappropriated balance of $18 million by June 30, 2019.
Myers addressed fears of a failing lottery industry in the state by stating that the West Virginia Lottery Commission was toying with the idea of i-gaming—a forum that would allow the public to access scratch-off tickets and other traditional lottery games online or via an app. No moves have yet been made to pursue this idea in the fiscal years of 2019 or 2020.
A bill removing restrictions on where certain traditional lottery games may be played is set for first reading before the full Senate on Monday.
The Senate convened at 11 a.m. Friday. to review reported bills. Eight bills were reported from respected committees to be read on first reading Monday, Jan. 14. Six bills were reported from the Committee on Finance, and two bills came from the Committee on Judiciary.
Senate Bill 27 was reported to the floor Friday. It removes restrictions on where certain traditional lottery games may be played. This is the same bill, Senate Bill 324 from the 2018 Regular Session. The bill removes current restrictions on where certain KENO themed lottery games may be played. Currently these games may only be played at locations that are authorized to sell alcohol. The bill would allow these games to be sold at all traditional lottery licensed retail locations.
Members of the Senate have expressed concern about whether the bill would enforce the bill in area where alcohol is served.
Senate Bills 252 to 284 also were introduced Friday.
The Senate also voted unanimously to adopt Senate Resolution 7 which recognizes Jan. 11 as Women and Girls Day at the capital.
The Senate is adjourned until Monday, Jan. 14 at 11 a.m.
In Friday’s floor session, the House of Delegates met briefly to recognize bills discussed by committees.
The House Judiciary committee reported House Bill 2164 which helps clarify that appeals to the state Supreme Court are a matter of right. This bill is a bipartisan bill and its lead sponsor is Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, it is due for first reading on Monday, January 14th.
The House also observed in Women’s and Girls day. Special guest, U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, was on the floor as well.
The House is adjourned until Monday, Janurary 14 at 11 p.m.
Steve Paine, State Superintendent of Schools, gave an overview of the Department of Education this morning regarding their process so far and what they need to focus more in the future. Superintendent Paine said, Mathematics is a concern of the department as it is currently the states number one deficiency. West Virginia also has a chronic absentee problem. Over 20 percent of kids miss school, being considered “absent” means that a student has to have missed 18 or more days of school.
The department also wants to focus more on being proactive, with a special interest in mind to place a teacher in every school that is certified to teach coding and programming courses. The department expressed their willingness to partner with Governor Justice on the “Jim’s Dream” program for adult second time around. Our state has also seen an improvement in graduation rates going up with more students graduating from high school.
The House Committee on Finance heard a presentation from the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General during their committee meeting at 9 a.m. on Jan. 11 in 460-M.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey presented an overview of the office’s responsibilities, followed by a presentation of the office’s financial standing and requests for the fiscal year of 2019.
Morrissey reported that his office facilitated approximately $40 million over the course of the last five fiscal years, and approximately $13 million in savings since Dec. 2015, primarily through the office’s work to reduce Social Security fraud reduction.
Morrissey emphasized the ability of his office to locate and reduce financial fraud within the state of West Virginia, and maintained that any reduction of his staff in the year of 2019 would reduce this efficiency and add to cost through increasing a greater reliance on outside counsel to carry out the tasks of the office. For this reason, Morrissey requests state appropriations to his office that are equivalent to the amount of money they received in the fiscal year of 2018, and within the constraints of the budget recommendations.
“We are aggressive when it comes to finding fraud,” Morrissey said. “You will get a return on your investment.”
As far as budget requests for the fiscal year of 2019, Morrissey asked the Finance Committee to consider transferring the jurisdiction of the Medicare Fraud Control Unit to the hands of the Attorney General’s Office. Morrissey said that 43 states allocate the responsibility of finding Medicare fraud to the attorney general’s office, and that West Virginia should not be an outlier in this matter.
“We have the fraud experience,” said Morrissey. “And from a fiscal integrity perspective, it’s nice to have a fresh pair of outside eyes to examine this issue.”
The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office ultimately stated a goal for 2019 to streamline operations in order to save taxpayer dollars and maintain transparency.
Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson, District 66) said he was eager to work with the Attorney General’s Office on this matter. He spoke upon the idea that because the Department of Health and Human Services has the second largest budget after education, that he appreciates the amount of discretion that this budget request would bring to the state on the issue of fraud.
The House Committee for Substance Abuse met to formally begin their work for the 84th legislative session.
In Friday’s meeting, legislators heard progress of their programs and statistics on how the opioid epidemic is affecting West Virginia.
Bob Hansen, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, touched on many subjects during the presentation, but also highlighted the drug overdose deaths.
“The opioid crisis in West Virginia is a health crisis, a social services crisis, and an economic crisis,” Hansen said.
West Virginia is losing $8.8 billion a year as a result of this crisis, according to statistics from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Research also shows that those at highest risk for drug abuse are men between the ages of 35 and 54, have a high school diploma or less education, unmarried, and working blue-collar jobs.
West Virginia also is one of a few states that has substance use waivers, as well as the first state to have a neonatal syndrome waiver.
Prevention is an important emphasis in this plan and a $2,260,000 SAMHSA grant awarded to the DHHR will help with their prevention cause.
West Virginia set a record with $184.9 million in budget surplus in the 2018 fiscal year and revenue projections are projected to increase by 2.05 percent in the upcoming fiscal year, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy told legislators Thursday.
In Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hardy and Mike Cook, director of the State Budget Office, presented updated revenue projections.
Hardy forecasted the 2019-2020 revenue projection to increase by 2.05 percent.
“That’s a very conservative revenue estimate,” Hardy said. “It’s a good revenue estimate. Even though times are good, we’re not trying to go out there and overestimate next year’s revenue.”
Hardy said the state set a record with $184.9 million budget surplus in 2018 which can now be used throughout the state.
“It’s great for everyone,” Hardy said. “The administration and the Legislature now has some money to work with.”
Hardy also addressed the committee about issues discovered in October surrounding the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Hardy said the Department of Revenue purposed a supplemental one-time infusion of funds to get the VA hospital “back on its feet.”
Cook addressed the committee with a six-year plan and said that the 2019 general revenue is $185.9 million above the estimate established in Dec. of 2018.
Cook said that because of an increase in general revenue, the state now has one of the best Rainy-Day Funds in the country.
The committee also introduced the following bills and motioned to report them to the full Senate:
Senate Bill 13, which changes the distribution of racetrack video lottery net terminal income, excess net terminal income, and excess lottery fund, was laid over.
The House Committee on Finance met at 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon to discuss the current economic state of West Virginia, the projected economic growth that the state will see, and possible implications that may come with Governor Justice’s proposal to deduct Social Security taxes.
The West Virginia Department of Revenue provided the data that drove the presentation given during the committee. Mark R. Muchow, the Deputy Revenue Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Revenue, presented and interpreted the figures.
The West Virginia Department of Revenue reported accelerated growth since late 2016. General revenues are also projected to grow 13.5 percent in the first half of 2019.
Economic projections are calculated when taking the figures from Justice’s revenue proposal into consideration, and the data generated takes these policies into account.
State road fund collections are expected up exceed estimates, and have already increased 20 percent since the 2017 fiscal year. Lottery revenues also will continue to increase from the prior year, and the construction sector is expected to boom.
“2018 is one of the best years we’ve seen in a decade or so,” Muchow said on the current state of the West Virginia economy. “We’re going to continue to see a lot of growth in construction and leisure and hospitality.”
One major reason for the state’s above average growth in the construction sector is the effect the pipeline industry has had on the state’s economy.
Muchow’s major concern for the state in terms of economic standing was the continuing decline of the manufacturing sector.
“The manufacturing sector continues to underperform,” Muchow said. “This impacts locations in the state that once relied on manufacturing—such as Huntington and Charleston.”
Despite the manufacturing sector falling short, the state is estimated to grow their revenues by at least 1.9 percent. By 2020, they hope to increase revenue by at least 2 percent.
Muchow cited that the biggest state expenditure to the state would not be the $50 million it would cost under Justice’s plan to cut taxes for Social Security recipients, but the $150 million it would cost to dedicate enough money to PEIA to provide a satisfactory cushion for state workers for the next few years.
“We appear to be on the upswing overall. Pipeline business is growing, energy is increasing, and our health sector is continuing to improve as well.”
The House Finance Committee will meet at 9am Jan. 11 in 460-M to hear the West Virginia Attorney General’s Budget Presentation, as well as a budget presentation from the West Virginia Lottery.
The House Committee on Health and Human Resources met briefly Thursday to discuss a bill establishing universal forms and deadlines when submitting prior authorizations electronically.
The committee met Thursday afternoon for introductions and housekeeping items on its agenda. The committee also discussed an originating bill that had been passed in the 83rd Legislature but vetoed by the governor.
Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 442 dealing with prior authorization.
In his veto message, Gov. Jim Justice said, “Enrolled Community Substitute for Senate Bill 442 is concerning because it voids current contracts governing prior authorization response times would be ruled as unconstitutional.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee convened today to discuss two bills in regards to rules on Infrastructure.
Senate Bill 177 amends current legislation by requiring a sunset provision, and by updating an energy efficiency standard for commercial buildings from the 2000 edition to the 2010 edition of the International Property Maintenance Code. Kenneth E. Tyree, West Virginia State Fire Marshall, was brought in to discuss the West Virginia’s current building codes.
Senate Bill 190 is a Division of Highways (DOH) rule relating to new employment procedures. The bill provides a new pay plan for the DOH that allows salary and hourly classified employees to be compensated for hours worked after the accumulation of 40 hours.
The Committee amended the bill to define Premium as time and a half when employees work in excessive of 40 hours per week.
Both bills were passed by the Committee unanimously to be delivered to the full Senate for consideration.
The Committee is adjourned until next Monday, Jan. 14.
The Senate Committee on Finance convened for a Budget Presentation 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 10.
Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of revenue, updated committee members on the past fiscal year and presented a forecast for the approaching months.
Muchow said that since 2016, the state’s economy has seen growth which can be accounted to major pipeline investments, the Governor’s Road to Prosperity Program, a general revenue growth of 1.5 percent in the first part of the 2019 fiscal year and a 20% total increase in coal production since 2016.
As the national employment rate is predicted to rise by 4.9 percent, Muchow said that the state’s employment rate will rise by 2.2 percent despite above average employment growth in the construction sector. Muchow said that demographics continue to hinder WV’s workforce.
In addition to a rise in WV’s employment, Muchow said that wages within the state will approach the national average following a decline in 2018.
In the presentation Muchow also said that personal income taxes will see an average annual growth of 9.1 percent from 2018-2024 while consumers sales tax will experience an average annual growth of 3.5 percent from 2018-2024.
Muchow’s final baseline forecast predicted a good fiscal year for 2019 which could see a slowdown in economic growth and a possible recession in 2020 following a slowdown in the state’s oil and natural gas industries.
Despite a possible recession, Muchow said that the state grew 3-4 percent in coal production while production in surrounding states declined. Muchow said a surge in state exports, such as coal, help money build up and improve economic growth.
The House of Delegates convened at 11 a.m. on Jan. 10 for the second day of the 84th West Virginia Legislative Session.
The House has introduced 208 bills so far – 179 bills on Wednesday and 29 bills on Thursday.
Noteworthy bills introduced this session include House Bill 2021, a bill relating to the relocation of closure of state higher education institutions and proposed requirement for the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA) to conduct studies regarding the effectiveness of a higher education institutions' economic, educational, and communitarian impacts.
Other bills referred to committees this week include House Bill 2128, which allows the option for state employees to take paid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences. Another bill, House Bill 2028, limits the way lines are laid on state right-of-ways.
These House Committees are meeting today:
House Committee on Senior, Children, and Family Issues will meet at 1 p.m. today, Jan. 10 in 215-E, to discuss organizational motions.
House Finance Committee will meet at 2 p.m. today, Jan. 10 in 460M to discuss Governor Jim Justice's Revenue Presentation.
House Committee on Energy will meet at 2p.m. today, Jan. 10, in 418M to discuss organizational motions.
House Committee on Health and Human Services will meet at 2p.m. today, Jan. 10, in 215-E to discuss organizational motions and a bill regarding prior authorization.
House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse will meet at 3:30p.m. today, Jan. 10, in 215-E. The agenda will be posted.
These House Committees are meeting tomorrow, Jan. 11, before the 11a.m. House floor session:
House Committee on Education will meet at 9a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 11, in 434M. The agenda will be posted.
House Committee on Finance will meet at 9a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 11, in 460M. They will discuss the state budget and the West Virginia Lottery will give a presentation regarding state financial matters.
House Judiciary Committee will meet at 9:45 a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 11, in 410M. The agenda will be posted.
House Government Organization Committee will meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 11, in 215-E. The agenda will be posted.
The House will reconvene Friday at 11a.m. in the House Chamber.
The Senate unanimously voted yes on Senate Resolution 6 which honor Clifford E. Brooks, member of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, for his service during the war. Brooks was recently honored in Keyser, West Virginia.
The Senate introduced SB 151-251.
Senate Bill 155 Authorizing correctional officers to retire after 25 years.
Senate Bill 234 Requiring schools to provide elective courses on religion.
Senate Bill 237 Improving ability of law enforcement to locate and return missing persons.
The following committees will meet today:
The Senate Energy, Industry & Mining Committee will meet at 1 p.m. in 208W.
The Senate Education Committee will meetat 1 p.m. in 451M.
The Senate Health & Human Resources Committee will meet at2 p.m. 451M.
The Senate Government Organization Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in 208W.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at3 p.m. 208W.
The Senate Finance Committee will meet at 3 p.m. in 451M.
TheSenate is adjourned until 11 a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 11.
Revenue Secretary Presents Governor’s Proposed Budget to House Finance
Secretary of Revenue Dave Hardy and Mike Cook, director of the State Budget Office, presented legislators with Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed budget in Monday’s House Finance Committee meeting.
The 2018 fiscal year ended with a General Revenue surplus of $36.1 million, with $18 million transferred to the Rainy Day fund.
The Medicaid program ended 2018 with a healthy cash balance in the state’s matching share. Fiscal year revenues for 2019 revenues are $185.9 million above estimate at the end of December 2018. The 2019 fiscal year lottery revenues are running about 16 percent ahead of estimates.
General revenue cash flow for the 2019 fiscal year is strong because of punctually for paying bills, Cook told legislators. The governor also recommended a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees. This amounts to $2,120 for teachers, $1,150 for service personnel, and $2,370 for other state employees. He also included the second year of increases for corrections employees.
The budget includes new money dedicated to Social Services, deferred maintenance, tourism, and substance programs as well.
Rainy Day funds are strong, Hardy said, with more than $718.6 million as of December 2018. No Rainy Day funds were used to balance the 2020 fiscal year budget.
The House of Delegates convened Wednesday, Jan. 9 for the first regular session of the 84th West Virginia Legislature.
To start the session, delegates were sworn into office and then elected officers. Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, served as the presiding officer over the House of Delegates until the elected positions were filled.
West Virginia Chief Justice Beth Walker administered the Oath of Office to the House and swore new and returning Delegates into the legislative session.
The first item of business was the appointment of the Speaker of the House for the 84th Regular Session of the West Virginia Legislature. Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, nominated Delegate Robert Hanshaw, R-Clay, to be elected Speaker of the House.
Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, seconded the nomination, saying Hanshaw “has a vision to make West Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family.”
With 59 votes, Delegate Roger Hanshaw took his place as the Speaker of the House for the Regular Session of the 84th West Virginia Legislature.
In his acceptance speech, Hanshaw referred to ambitious plans for the legislative session. Goals for the House of Delegates include working on legislation to increase broadband access to parts of rural West Virginia, and working on legislation to reform the state’s foster care system.
Steve Harrison was re-elected as House Clerk.
Anne Lieberman was re-elected as House Sergeant-at-Arms.
Robert Stewart was re-elected as House Doorkeeper.
After electing members of the 2019 Regular Session and adopted a procedural resolution to invite Gov. Jim Justice give his State of the State Address at 7 p.m.
The House of Delegates will reconvene at 6:45 p.m. to conduct further legislative business.
The House of Delegates will reconvene at 11 a.m. on Jan. 10, tomorrow,in the House Chamber.
The Following House Committees are meeting in the next 24 hours:
The House Education Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in 434M today, Jan. 9.
The House Finance Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in 460M today, Jan. 9.
The Government Organization Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in 215E today, Jan. 9.
The House Judiciary Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in 410M today, Jan. 9.
The House Committee on Banking and Insurance will meet at 10 a.m. in 215E tomorrow, Jan. 10.
The House Finance Committee will meet at 9 a.m. in 460M tomorrow, Jan. 10.
The West Virginia Senate convened the First Regular Session of the 84th Legislature today at noon.
Newly elected members of the Senate were immediately sworn in by Evan Jenkins, State Supreme Court Justice.
Mitch Carmichael was re-elected as President of the Senate. Lee Cassis was re-elected as Senate Clerk. Joseph Freedman was re-elected as Sgt. In Arms. Jeffery Brahman was re-elected as the Senate Door Keeper.
After the elections, the Senate introduced bills 1-149.
The following committees will meet today:
Pensions at 2 p.m. in 451M
Judiciary at 3 p.m. in 208W
The following committees will meet tomorrow:
Finance at 9:30 a.m. in 451M
The Senate reconvened after the State of the State Address by Governor Jim Justice to introduce Senate Bill 150 which involves the state budget.
The Senate is adjourned until 11 a.m. tomorrow, Jan. 10.
The Joint Committee on Technology convened at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8 in M-451. The focus of the meeting was an informational presentation by the engineers and coordinators behind STF-1, the first spacecraft completely manufactured in West Virginia.
STF-1, or “Simulation-to-Flight 1”, is a variation of satellite known as a “CubeSat”. These miniature satellites are designed to be low-cost and high-efficiency, which allowed the spacecraft to be completed in just a minimal four years.
STF-1 was funded entirely by NASA and their Independent Verification and Validation Program. Work on the project was facilitated by Lead Engineer Matt D. Grubb of Reliable Systems, Inc. and Systems Engineer Scott A. Zemerick of TMC2. Justin D. Morris served as the Principal Investigator of STF-1. A unique trait of the spacecraft is that the three primary engineers are WVU alumni. Additionally, WVU’s science and engineering faculty and interns played a central role in integrating the hardware and software utilized in STF-1.
Unique features of the CubeSat include a GPS receiver that gives details of the satellite’s location in orbit, a specialized array of LED lights that are immune to the effects of the space environment, and a radio on board that communicates at 460 megahertz. Additionally, the STF-1 is one of the first CubeSats that utilizes more than one IMU, or inertial measurement unit, which measures orbital movement. The STF-1 features 32 IMU’s, yet the entire spacecraft is no larger than a loaf of bread.
“This is very innovative technology, and it was primarily built all here in this state,” said Grubb, lead engineer. “This is a milestone to get excited about.”
Along with being built in the state of West Virginia, the STF-1 team was also adamant about promoting it within the state too. Promotional campaigns aimed towards students such as a logo design contest and a contest for building a Lego model of STF-1 helped to promote enthusiasm within the state of West Virginia. The West Virginia State Grant Consortium coordinated this state-wide communication outreach, which led up to the exciting launch of STF-1 on December 16, 2018 in New Zealand.
The West Virginia-born spacecraft is still in orbit, and will continue to be there for observation and radio communication indefinitely.
The engineers say they are “ready and willing” to build another, and are ready to work with more West Virginia-based organizations for funding and cooperation.
The director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research says West Virginia’s economy is moving in the right direction but still has a long way to go.
In Wednesday’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance, John Deskins, director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, presented the 2019-2023 West Virginia Economic outlook.
After the state lost more than 26,000 jobs between 2012 and 2016, West Virginia has added 7,000 jobs, according to the report.
“We are moving in the right direction but we still have a long way to go to get back to where we were in 2012,” Deskins said.
Although other counties have added jobs, primary growth has been concentrated in eight counties— Monongalia, Marshall, Harrison, Doddridge, Roane, Jackson, Berkeley and Jefferson. Growth has mainly been driven by energy industries.
West Virginia’s Gross Domestic Product – which measures the total value of goods produced and services provided – grew in 2017 and outpaced 40 other states, according to the report. This growth was driven by energy-related industries.
The state’s unemployment rate has increased over the past year and currently stands in the low 5 percent range. The increase has been driven by more individuals returning to the labor market to look for work. However, Deskins said a big concern is West Virginia’s labor force participation, which measures people who are actively looking for work. Only 53 percent of West Virginia’s population is either working or looking for work, which is the lowest rate in all 50 states.
The national rate is 63 percent. He explained this number will never be 100 percent because it accounts for the population including those who are retired or attending school.
The economy also differs by region:
Legislators asked about how outmigration is affecting the state’s economy. Deskins said it has a “tremendous” effect. West Virginia’s population has decreased by nearly 40,000 since 2012, according to the report, and is estimated to continue to lose population in the next five years.
Deskins said the state needs to diversify its economy and focus on fostering a conducive environment for entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship is essential,” he said. “Most people who start a business this year will not be running that business next year. But the ones who do find success—that’s how you find the right industrial mix.”
“The conclusion is there should never be an economic development discussion that doesn’t somehow include the question of what we can do to create, foster, and support an environment more conducive to entrepreneurship.”
The Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services convened at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8 in Room 215-E to consider two pieces of draft legislation pertaining to the financial procedures of Volunteer Fire Departments in the state of West Virginia.
Doren Burrell, an Attorney representing the West Virginia’s Legislative Services Division, presented two pieces of draft legislation—respectfully referred to as VFD 1 and VFD 2 throughout the committee meeting.
VFD 1 is a piece of draft legislation that would require West Virginia’s Volunteer Fire Departments to document their use of allocated state funds. This legislation would require Volunteer Fire Departments to send financial statements and images of checks to Legislative Auditors in order to be held accountable for the use of funds. Failure to comply or suspicion of noncompliance could result in the Volunteer Fire Department being audited.
VFD 2 involves redefining the sanctions put on Volunteer Fire Departments for financial infractions. Whereas the current law does not specify a financial penalty for Volunteer Fire Departments spending money on unauthorized expenditures, this bill allows for future grant money to be deducted from in order to cover the cost of unauthorized expenditures and misapplication of state funds. Additionally, failure to meet written requests from state auditors could also result in the reduction or holding of grant money from the Volunteer Fire Department.
Nathan Hamilton, a West Virginia Auditor for Volunteer Fire Departments, cited that $22 million dollars total were given to 428 West Virginia Volunteer Fire Departments in the fiscal year of 2018. Of that, 21 Volunteer Fire Departments were found to be in noncompliance. $2.8 million dollars were audited.
Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone) was critical of the proposed legislation, arguing that it made it more difficult to retain and recruit needed volunteer firefighters in the state.
“Hopefully, since this session is just beginning, this committee can move in a direction and draft some legislation that will help our volunteer firefighters—people who greatly need it.” Stollings said.
Both pieces of draft legislation were approved of by the committee to be reviewed and introduced as bills during the 84th West Virginia Regular Legislative Session for passage. The bills would work to solve for the loss of state funds in the state due to misuse, and allow for more state discretion over how volunteer fire departments utilize state funds.
The Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development met with Bob Orndorff, state policy director, to discuss positive workforce data for gas-related construction in West Virginia.
Since 2016, employment has increased by 28 percent from 13,408 to 22,514 jobs in West Virginia.
Additionally, the total direct wages from the industry has increased from $1.1 billion in 2016 to $1.5 billion 2017, marking a 36.4 percent increase. Through the first two quarters of 2018, the direct wages are upwards of $935 million, and is expected to surpass last year’s quarter numbers.
Orndorff also gave the committee updates on the current pipelines constructed in West Virginia, including: Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline, and the TransCanada’s Mountaineer Express.
Orndorff also asked the committee to consider new legislation for the 2019 session. Some of his proposals included creating opportunities to use natural gas in West Virginia through amending Senate Bill 390, enhancing the community college system to support the industry, promoting storage hubs, and supporting the pipeline development.
The committee asked Orndorff specific questions about four permits currently suspended for a pending court case in the 4th Circuit of Appeals. The permits pertain to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, crossing the Appalachian Trail, and the Monongahela National Forest.
The 4th Circuit will hear the case in March of this year and if they win, then construction of the pipeline may continue. If the industry loses in March, Orndorff said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wild horse populations in southern West Virginia are on the rise and problems are increasing because of it.
In Tuesday’s meeting, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee heard from a West Virginia horse rescue executive director on problems the state is experiencing. The committee also heard advice from a Kentucky horse rescue executive director on how Kentucky is handling their free-roaming horses.
Tinia Creamer, executive director of the Heart of Phoenix Horse Rescue, said the free-roaming horse population in southern West Virginia is a problem – with about 2,000 horses in Mingo and McDowell counties in 2014. This is more than the state can geographically handle, Creamer said.
“Horses just can’t be sustained by the land in West Virginia,” Creamer said. “We can hardly maintain 500.”
Creamer has been involved with the care and assistance to these horses for 10 years. The Heart of Phoenix Horse Rescue is the largest horse rescue in West Virginia and the only equine training program in West Virginia.
Wild horses also cause a lot of danger on the roads, not just in crossing. In order to get nutrients they need to survive in the winter months, horses will stay in the roads to lick the salt off the surface. This presents a danger for drivers and horses.
Creamer also said that there are rescues nationwide and vet schools willing to help in the humane and safe removal of some of these horses to adoption shelters and sanctuaries.
“These horses are not coming from owners. Owners actually care about and take care of their horses,” Creamer said. “These horses are coming from horse traders who have thin, sick horses and are trying to increase their weight by releasing them on mine lands. These lands are not safe for horses and we have found horses either dead in spaces where they couldn’t get out or with catastrophic injuries.”
Ginny Grulke, executive director of the Appalachian Horse Center of Kentucky, spoke to legislators about her work with free-roaming horses and how they are cared for in Kentucky. The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources is researching how other Appalachian states are caring for free-roaming horses.
Creamer asked the committee to consider legislation to create a legal fee for abandoning horses and to make changes to the stray holding period.
Gary Foster, Assistant Chief for Game Management, presented the Big Game Report for 2018. Foster said national surveys show West Virginia averaged $400 million in revenue for hunting. In his report for the archery and crossbow season, crossbows are half the harvest legally collected and have become more popular since crossbow legislation passed in 2015. The buck firearm harvest had about 250,000 hunters participating as well.
Some new seasons are also coming in the spring, one would only allow the use of more primitive weapons such as muzzleloaders and bare bows.
Foster also updated legislators on elk introduced to West Virginia. He said West Virginia’s elk are doing well on reclaimed mine lands. He said he is looking to bring in more elk in 2020 and look for another release site.
Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, asked Foster whether he took a position on baiting bears. Foster cited one of his agency’s surveys that showed the public was not accepting of baiting bears. He said although baiting is highly effective for killing bears, there is a very high risk of disease and parasites spreading to other big game animals. He also said there have been a few cases of mange seen in some black bears in West Virginia.
The Joint Standing Committee on Energy convened at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 7th, in the House Chamber to discuss natural gas industry permits. The informational
committee meeting featured two administrators of the state energy industry, and focused on the process of applying for a permit to drill for oil and gas.
James Martin, the Director of the Office of Oil and Gas within the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, provided an in-depth look at the civilian and commercial processes of applying for a permit to drill wells in the state of West Virginia. Several components are involved in applying for a permit and being approved for a permit, including compliance with the Water Management Plan and the Well Site Safety Plan, as well as many other regulations. These ensure that potential drill locations preserve the state’s water resources and the quality of fracturing operations within the state.
The numerous steps that one has to take in order to get a permit through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection are cause for a lengthy timeframe in getting permits approved and issued. Martin cites that most of the wells that were permitted for the fiscal year of 2018 took 95-100 days to process and approve.
“A lot of this impact on our timeframe has to do with internal staffing,” Martin said.
Martin discussed the fact that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection suffered a significant loss of specialized employees in the past year, but they have hired on enough new people to keep up with permit applications for the year 2019.
Another issue raised to Martin during the committee was the issue of orphaned wells in the state of West Virginia. There are currently 4,600 abandoned, nonfunctioning wells in the state. Delegate John R. Kelly (R-Wood) raised concern about the rate at which wells are being plugged.
Martin cited the fact that it costs about $65,000 to plug each well in the state, and for that reason, only one was plugged last year. Martin said that it’s difficult to plug wells without the assistance of federal funds, but that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection was making a concentrated effort to plug five or six more before the next fiscal year ends.
“We’re definitely making it a goal to fill more of these wells this year, and we can do it with the staff we have now,” Martin said.
Gary Clayton, the Oil and Gas Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, also stood before the Energy Committee to discuss how pipe-liners are permitted to drill within the state. Clayton assured the committee members that the Department of Transportation is committed to safety and a fair permit approval process.
Delegate Dave Pethtel (D-Wetzel), asked Clayton what was going to be done to address the frustrations that exist within his constituents in Wetzel County.
“Many people are frustrated with the state, they think that there is a lack of concern for secondary roads, and that driving situations are made more dangerous,” said Pethtel.
Clayton assured the committee that the state was committed to hold pipelining companies accountable for road damages, and that they would continue to be committed to ensure the safety of West Virginia citizens through a thorough permitting process.
“Safety is our primary concern here,” Clayton said.
The Joint Committee on Health heard two presentations in Monday’s interim meeting including a proposed starting point for West Virginia to address substance use.
Mark York, Director of the McDowell County Drug Project gave a presentation alongside Blades Williams, 12 year recovering drug user, on what they propose as a starting point for West Virginia to tackle the drug problem.
York showcased a mock website, called the “Opioid Injury Helpline,” which can be used to help people find the help they need. The website will be used as a database for every county in the state to direct those who are addicted to drugs to the right place.
Williams also recommended having intensive outpatient clinics for people throughout the state. Williams said unused storefronts throughout the counties would be a good option to consider.
The Committee also met with Cindy Beane, Commissioner of the Bureau of Medical Services (BMS). Beane discussed Medicaid uses within schools.
On average, $15 million a year is used in school base health services. Some of these services include nursing, speech language, and mental health.
Mental health has been provided on a school base, but the bureau plans to expand the mental health services already provided.
The committee has adjourned until 4 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 8 in House Chamber, where it will be joined by the Joint Standing Judiciary Committee.
The Joint Standing Committee on Education heard updates on the West Virginia State Task Force, which was established to combat sexual abuse of children in the state.
The committee met Monday afternoon as part of the final interim meetings before the 83rd West Virginia legislative session begins on Wednesday.
Kate Flack, the executive director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, addressed the committee, reflecting progress made last year in preventing sexual abuse of West Virginia students.
“I’m here to represent West Virginia children,” Flack said. “One in 10 of who are victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18.”
Last year, the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network worked in tandem with five state-based action groups and educational interests to fight for two pieces of legislation that ultimately passed unanimously in the House and Senate. House Bill 4402 and Senate Bill 465 were introduced last year with bipartisan sponsorship.
House Bill 4402 created the Body Safety Education, which establishes training protocol within West Virginia schools and educational programs.
Senate Bill 465 puts a stipulation on how facilitators report child sexual assault. Whereas the previous law required 48 hours to report, the bill requires a more stringent and rapid reportage time limit of 24 hours.
The West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, the West Virginia Association of Middle and Elementary School Principals, Step-by-Step, and many other advocacy organizations worked with legislators including Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe –both of whom helped move these legislative initiatives forward.
Mickey Blackwell, the executive director of West Virginia Association of Middle and Elementary School Principals, commended the legislature for their cooperation in this matter.
“We started this mission with a lot of momentum, and then we flat-lined for a bit,” Blackwell said. “Delegates such as Espinosa and Mann helped pick the issue back up and we got a lot done in the last legislative session.”
Although the speakers said they were grateful for existing legislation that works to increase reportage efficiency and training, they also acknowledged there is more they want to accomplish.
Michael Tierney, director of Step by Step and Youth Serving Organization Action Group, talked about needed improvements to address sexual abuse in the state. He referred to the fact that many educational organizations, including 4H, don’t have the same access to training as K-12 schools and public universities. Tierney said more effort is needed to address these institutions to better equip them to deal with child sexual assault in the state. He also spoke on how the training attempts to communicate to children about sexual assault.
“Kids don’t need vague warnings about ‘stranger danger,’” Tierney said. “This makes children responsible for who is good and bad, and that’s our job as the grown-ups. We need to teach kids that they have the right to say no.”
Michelle Blatt, assistant state superintendent, said a lot of progress has been made in training improvements since House Bill 4402 was passed. However, the standing committee is still working with the task forces to improve outreach and training strategies to best reach out to victimized children.
In Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance, Chief Justice Beth Walker and other court officials presented a “Courts 101,” detailing the court’s functions and also outlined transparency measures the court has taken.
Walker began her presentation referencing the controversy in the court. Former Justice Allen Loughry was convicted on 11 federal charges and former Justice Menis Ketchum pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge. Walker promised more open communication and transparency within the court.
Walker said the court adopted new travel policy initiatives that applies to everyone.
“It makes clear that state vehicles are not used for personal business,” Walker said. “It creates more accountability in checking vehicles out.”
The court has 19 state vehicles, all with new license plates and all enrolled in the state’s fleet management system, Walker said.
Walker said all property overseen by the court is now catalogued in the state’s OASIS system. She said the court also is working on a computer use policy and is drafting an employee handbook.
Cindy Largent-Hill, director of the Division of Children/Juvenile Services presented statistics for abuse and neglect cases, saying there has been an increase in the last few years. She said the number of petitions increased in 44 counties.
In 2011, there were 3,391 new abuse and neglect petitions and 5,770 petitions filed in 2017. In that same period, the number of overall new juvenile case filings decreased by 8 percent and West Virginia's population of children under 18 decreased by 4 percent. Abuse and neglect petitions represent two-thirds of all juvenile cases filed.
Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, asked Walker whether she would take a position on a proposed creation of an intermediate court of appeals. Walker said she may but has not yet taken a position. Bates asked her if she had concerns, particularly how it would affect abuse and neglect cases.
“I do have grave concerns that it would impose another step on the abuse and neglect process. I’m worried about an additional delay,” Walker said. “Abuse and neglect has increased at a quick rate. ... It's growing every year."
Court officials also gave an overview on topics including the state’s e-filing system and drug courts: