Weld looks back at positives of West Virginia Legislature

With nearly a month since the end of the 2019 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature and the signing of legislation by the deadline, state Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, is taking stock of all that was accomplished during those 60 days.

Weld, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, was the lead sponsor or a co-sponsor of 63 bills between Jan. 9 and March 9. Of those bills, 19 passed both the Senate and House of Delegates and were signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice.

These include legislation that will help military veterans. Weld, the chairman of the Senate Military Committee, introduced Senate Bill 40, which re-establishes a Military Service Members Court program; and Senate Bill 596, which allows the public to donate to the Department of Veterans Assistance when filling out paperwork at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“Obviously this is personal for me,” said Weld, a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. “My personal goal during the session was to get the veterans court across the finish line. We were able to do that thankfully.”

The Military Service Members Court is for veterans who commit crimes that can be attributable to their service, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, drug addiction, or other disorders. If the veteran successfully completes the program, their sentence could be reduced or even dismissed. The previous program was shut down by Allen Loughry, the former chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

“This was about righting a wrong, because we previously had a veterans court program, especially one that was very active up in here in the Northern Panhandle,” Weld said. “I’m very glad we’re going to have that program back up and running. I do think it is very important to help those who have served and that, because of their service, found themselves with some issues that have landed them in the criminal court system.”

Weld, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Brooke County and the vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also voted with the majority on Senate Bill 152, which allows for the expungement of certain criminal convictions, such as misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Weld said the bill will help give those convicted of non-violent crimes a chance to re-enter the workforce without stigma.

Bills that will help Weld’s constituents on the 1st Senatorial District include House Bill 2001, which phases in a tax cut on Social Security benefits. The tax cut is phased in over the next three fiscal years, but caps deductions at $50,000 for single households and $100,000 for joint returns. Weld hopes the legislature takes another look at a full phase out next year.

Senate Bill 36, which was introduced by Weld, allows adjustment of gross income for calculating personal income liability for certain retirees. The bill is aimed at helping retirees of Weirton Steel who lost their pensions after the company went bankrupt.

The pension plan was taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, but the retirees don’t receive the full amount of their pensions. The state previously gave these pensioners a tax break to make up the difference, but that expired several years ago. Weld has been working to restore the tax break, which passed but isn’t effective until after July.

“I am extremely disappointed in what the House did,” Weld said. “They pushed it out so it’s not effective this tax year, but one year past. They delayed relief for these individuals for an additional year for something that has a minimal impact on the state’s revenue.”

Other bills Weld was proud of voting for include: Senate Bill 1, creating the last-dollar-in community and technical college program for high school students and adult learners; House Bill 2583, which allows pharmacists to dispense contraceptives 12 months after prescribed; and Senate Bill 564, expanding comprehensive coverage for pregnant women through Medicaid.