Legislature fixes vetoed legislation
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Legislature resumed the special session Monday to fix several bills vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice in March and to make supplemental appropriations.
Early Monday, Justice issued an updated proclamation adding an additional bill to the day’s agenda relating to admissibility of health care staffing requirements in lawsuits. The additional bill brought the total bills up to 31.
Many of the bills on Monday’s agenda were vetoed for technical flaws and other deficiencies. Of the 30 bills that Justice vetoed in March, about half were on Monday’s special session agenda. Altogether, 18 bills were passed by the Legislature Monday evening, which adjourned until being called back by House and Senate leaders to resume work on the education special session.
One of the bills passed, Senate Bill 1037, will allow permits for medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensaries to be held by one company. The bill that passed during the regular session, House Bill 2079, was vetoed for creating a discriminatory tax structure, where separate companies would have been taxed differently than the vertically-integrated companies.
In the original bill, HB 2079 would have taxed integrated businesses at 5 percent of gross receipts while non-integrated medical cannabis businesses would have been taxed at 10 percent. The new bill fixed this issue and passed both chambers.
Another vetoed bill, creating a voluntary certification process for drug and alcohol-free recovery residences, had its technical issues corrected. The new bill, Senate Bill 1012, passed but not before State Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, tried to amend it. The amendment would have required the drug recovery residence to submit a legal ad asking for public comment for the proposed facility to the agency certifying the residence.
“There is absolutely no public notice that is given to the public that these recovery homes are applying for this certification,” Tarr said. “The certifying entity has to take into consideration the public comments.”
State Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, raised concerns that Tarr’s amendment could disrupt the progress that’s been made in places, such as Huntington, ravaged by the opioid epidemic. Tarr’s amendment failed by voice vote.
“This was the most complex issue that the Legislature looked at during the 60-day session,” Woelfel said. “We have this layer of federal laws that we are treading just one toe into. … We can’t make these recovery homes do a damn thing.”
Alongside the vetoed legislation, Justice also introduced supplemental appropriations to move $54 million into secondary road repair and maintenance projects. This is being done by taking from a combined pool of $72 million — $30 million in unappropriated monies and $42 million by raising revenue estimates. This is the second time revenue estimates were raised this fiscal year, with revenue estimates first raised back in March.
While there was agreement on the need for the additional Division of Highways funding, there was concern raised over lack of accountability and oversight to ensure the $54 million is truly used for maintenance.
“I’m a little concerned about giving them more money with no oversight,” said state Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 522 that Justice vetoed in March. Also known as Randy’s Dream, the bill included checks and balances on DOH to make sure the money was spent on secondary roads. The bill was not put on Monday’s agenda by Justice.
“I had every intention of amending that bill and putting in Senate Bill 522 to put in some transparency for the taxpayers. I’m not saying they don’t need the $54 million … but I just feel like we’re letting the fox guard the henhouse again.”
Also in the House, a resolution was approved creating four select committees on education reform. The 100 members of the House will be divided into committees of 25 to “review legislation, receive testimony, evaluate and recommend action” on education reform initiatives.
“With the Legislature anticipated to return soon to continue the special session goal of ‘education betterment,’ (Hanshaw) wants to maximize lawmakers’ input in this process,” said House Communications Director Jared Hunt. “With all delegates expected to be in Charleston and paid during the session, the speaker wants to make sure they are working and acitively participating in this process while they are here.”
The new select committees did not sit well with House Democrats, who joined with Senate Democrats and introduced their own education reform bills Monday.
“It is my understanding we’re not referring this to the education committee,” said Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. “Instead, it’s as if we’re doing a committee of the whole so every single member of the House is going to be assigned. Isn’t this taking jurisdiction away from the education committee which is assigned those particular issues?”
“It would be within the authority of the House to direct to which other committees bills may be referred or to committees to be created,” answered House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. “This resolution proposes that creation.”
The legislature is expected to take up several education reform items sometimes in June.