At midnight, Saturday, March 12, 2022 the session ended. Now we begin the process of sorting out what bills made it through the entire process and signed by the Governor. The Governor has until March 30 to act by signing, not signing or vetoing legislation. Senate bill 250 is the budget bill and it was signed; however, a line item was vetoed by the Governor where we had set aside $265 million for personal income tax reduction. The WV House wants to reduce taxes without raising others so this was our idea to plan for a 10% reduction in personal income tax (HB 4007) next year. Because the WV Senate did not pass House bill 4007, the Governor’s staff reported that there was no governing language to direct the appropriation so it was vetoed. It is so exciting that the state is having to debate what to do with surpluses instead of what to cut to make ends meet. As you may know we have over $1 billion in our savings account and our bond ratings are high. With this economic success, we were able to offer another pay raise to state employees. Our WV State Police received a $10,000 pay raise. During the next year we will study all pay of state employees to determine if other targeted areas need addressed. Direct service employees of the DHHR such as CPS workers are to receive additional pay on top of the current raise as well. I have been pushing for Corrections to receive additional pay like we did several years ago. I also know that we need more DOH workers to work on our roads and higher salaries would help. These employees are paid through special revenue accounts that are funded with gas taxes etc., and not in the general budget. Perhaps, we need to add a general revenue funding stream to the DOH as well. I always say if we could get an additional crew in Taylor Co. like we had years ago it would be so helpful. We have used Pruntytown Correctional Center (PCC) inmates in the past but with staffing shortages at PCC they were not always able to let an officer leave to guard the prisoners while they worked. I requested a bonus for state retirees and learned that every year we are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pension system to make it fully funded due to broken promises of the 1970s, 80s and 90s so I could not garner support for additional funds. Finally, Senate bill 172 authorized pay raises to county employees as they are set in statute.
As I read articles throughout the state they usually like to talk about the drama of session, which is infrequent and usually over social type issues but I would like to talk about some of the goodness as the Governor would say. In our efforts to get broadband throughout the state, we passed HB 4001 to aid in the process but also to put consumer protections in place. In the past, the government has squandered funds without much accountability. In this bill, every telecommunication company in the state will have to become eligible to receive money by being certified by the Public Service Commission. These safeguards provide accountability to make sure you get what your tax dollars have paid for. Also, if your internet is down for 24 continuous hours due to an issue with the company you can request a credit on your bill. And, you cannot be charged a fee for a paper bill. Taylor Co. has seen some broadband expansion but there will be more to come as grants are awarded.
WV received the largest economic investment in the state’s history ($2.7B) with the decision by Nucor Inc. to locate in Mason Co. For many years, elected members have been addressing issues that were impediments to companies locating here. Finally, all of the pieces have totaled up to an economic atmosphere that is desirable. While this is good news for WV, how can we see investment in Taylor Co? House bill 4002 started the certified sites and development readiness program. Local governments and economic development groups can file applications of potential sites in their communities that are ready for development. Matching funds are also available to help with site readiness. House bill 4566 will also be advantageous as it uses the federal ARPA money the state has received and sets it aside for matching grants towards infrastructure projects.
House bill 4003, a bill I sponsored, assists with abandoned mine lands and reclamation. With coal mining in our county, we will have the opportunity to facilitate mine drainage clean up because of the concentrations of rare earth minerals found in the drainage. Rare earth minerals are essential to many electronic manufacturing.
And finally for today’s article, constituents asked me for several pieces of legislation and the bills are waiting for the Governor’s signature. First was HB 4050 that expanded the animal trespass statute to include additional animals and HB 4535 changed the way driver’s licenses are awarded to students. Prior language said if a child had unsatisfactory academic progress or attendance the license would be denied. Now the language says restricted. Many children are going through difficult times and they do not need to be punished when they need to be able to drive to work or elsewhere to help support their families. I crafted another bill, House bill 4041, for the Poston family and was disappointed it did not progress further than one committee despite my asking. This bill provided for an expedited hearing for grandparent visitation when a parent has died. So, when someone asks me, what bills are you most proud that passed this session, it is usually the ones requested by my constituents that I actually had to have written and got passed. More to come in the weeks ahead as the Governor completes action on legislation.
Delegate Amy Summers ([email protected], 98 Meadland Rd., Flemington, WV 26347, 304-641-1159 cell)