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Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety bill reported to full Senate

CHARLESTON — The effort to reorganize and rename West Virginia’s top law enforcement and emergency services organization received support Tuesday from a Senate committee.

The Government Organization Committee recommended to the full Senate its version of Senate Bill 586, which reorganizes and re-designates the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety as the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security would include the West Virginia State Police, the Intelligence Fusion Center, the State Fire Marshal, the Division of Protective Services and the Parole Board.

The bill codifies internal changes made to the department by Secretary Jeff Sandy, including the creation of an administrative office to handle payroll and human resources, an inspector general division and an administrative judge to handle grievances. The West Virginia National Guard, which has been in the Department of Military Affairs for more than 30 years, will become a separate agency.

The bill renames the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to the Division of Emergency Management and incorporates several bills developed by the Joint Committee on Flooding.

Future employees of the renamed Division of Emergency Management will become at-will, allowing the agency to quickly set salaries and staff for emergencies and disasters. Current employees hired through the Civil Service System would remain Civil Service unless they change job classifications within the division.

The committee added an additional bill creating a State Resiliency Office and advisory board to help guide disaster mitigation planning. The bill lays out the authority of the new State Resiliency Office, its director, deputy director and the advisory board.

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, who served as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Flooding, asked if SB 586 would resolve issues over chain of command.

“Is this a result of all that political science conversation we’ve been having in the flooding committee and the resilience committee and all that, trying to straighten out the chain of command in a more efficient manner,” Swope said.

“I think that’s part and parcel of it, yes,” said Carl Fletcher, counsel for the Senate Government Organization Committee. “We had several big meetings that were what I would describe as all-hands meetings that had representatives from the governor’s office, emergency management services, DMAPS, individuals and everyone together to work this all out.”

SB 586 is one of Gov. Jim Justice’s bills and also has the support of the West Virginia Emergency Management Council. SB 586 now heads to the Senate floor with possible passage by the end of this week or the start of next week.

The House Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, last week, approved a similar bill, House Bill 4485. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the bill later this week.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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