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Lawmakers push out bills on tax reform, medical cannabis on crossover day

CHARLESTON — Wednesday was busy in the West Virginia Legislature as the House of Delegates and state Senate met early to get bills and resolutions passed and sent to the opposite chamber for crossover day.

The joint rules of the House and Senate require bills in the chamber of origin to be on third reading on the 50th day of the 60-day legislative session. Any bills that didn’t make it to the opposite chamber are considered dead, though their contents can always be amended into another bill and survive until day 60.

The House and Senate gaveled in at 10 a.m. Wednesday, both getting through their floor agendas by early afternoon.

The first bill passed on the Senate side was Senate Bill 231, making changes and updates to the state’s medical cannabis program. The bill creates reciprocity with other states that have similar medical cannabis laws and programs for West Virginia patients and officially removes a state residency requirement for medical cannabis companies. It increases the number of allowable medical conditions that could warrant a medical cannabis card from a physician or practitioner, as well as allows the commissioner of the Office of Medical Cannabis to add to the list of approved medical conditions.

It allows for dry leaf and plant form, as well as edible options, though it prohibits edibles from being marketed to children. It allows for a temporary certification for patients and caregivers to grow, possess, use, or give away cannabis.

“Senate Bill 231 is very similar to a bill we passed last year,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “The bill is designed to address problems and defects that have existed in our state Medical Cannabis Act, some of them from the very passage of the act.”

SB 231 passed 29-5 and now heads to the House, where similar bills have died the past two years. Lawmakers have also contemplated the possibility of recreational cannabis and even discrimination.

The Senate Finance Committee included a regulatory framework for taxing recreational cannabis in its version of House Bill 3300 Tuesday, and the House nearly approved an amendment Tuesday to a bill rewriting state criminal codes to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. That amendment failed 46-53, with a number of Republicans voting for the amendment.

The first item on the House agenda Wednesday was House Joint Resolution 3, which would give the Legislature the authority to exempt tangible machinery and equipment personal property directly used in business activity, and tangible inventory personal property directly used in business activity.

“This resolution is being proposed to provide the Legislature with greater flexibility in governing these issues, which ultimately affect the budget,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha. “This resolution would begin the process to amend the West Virginia Constitution to eliminate certain constitutional rules and limitations governing the imposition of property taxes.”

HJR 3 was adopted 84-16, easily clearing the two-thirds vote required for the proposed state constitutional amendment to pass. The resolution needed at least 67 votes. It will also need two-thirds of the Senate to approve the joint resolution, or 23 votes.

A similar resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 7, was moved to the Committee on Rules, making HJR 3 the vehicle for giving the Legislature authority over phasing out or removing the business and inventory tax. If the Senate approves, the question will be put to voters in a special election in 2022. The business and inventory taxes bring in more than $400 million annually, most of which goes to county governments and county school systems.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 550, would provide counties with the authority to impose a county sales and use tax of up to 1 percent under certain circumstances. That bill passed 28-5 and would go into effect in July if the House approves.

Counties would be able to institute the tax only after a public hearing is held. It would exempt incorporated areas of the county and also exempt gas and motor vehicle sales. The bill had full support from Senate Democratic members.

“Many of the things that this Legislature is about to do to counties in their budgets will significantly cut back on their ability to provide basic functions,” said Sen Ron Stollings, D-Boone. “But with the passage of this bill, perhaps they can at least keep their courthouse doors swinging.”

In another proposed constitutional amendment, the Senate adopted Senate Joint Resolution 1, the Protection of the Right to Bear Arms Amendment. The joint resolution would prohibit counties and cities from enacting regulations on firearms that are stricter than state laws. The resolution passed 33-1 with state Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, being the lone nay vote.

“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I own guns, and I fully support the rights given to us by the state and federal constitutions,” Ihlenfeld said. “I think there is something to be said about having the ability to have more local control on any numbers of issues, including this one. Martinsburg is different than Matewan.”

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

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