WVSPS 2019 Legislative Session Update

The following is not a political message. It is a legislative update from our government relations consultant. It is not intended to promote or oppose any political party, idea or agenda. It is simply intended to factually inform the society of current issues and conditions that exist in the legislature, so we can most effectively gauge our legislative activities going forward.

The West Virginia Legislature adjourned sine die at midnight on March 9, 2019. In so doing, legislators closed out a rancorous regular session emphasized by discord in the House. While legislators successfully passed a budget before adjourning, Governor Justice has already issued the call for a special session on “improving, modifying, and making efficiencies to the state’s public education system and employee compensation.” So, the Legislature has temporarily adjourned but could be back as early as April but more likely May or June to discuss education policy.

Quite possibly the biggest achievement of the session was ensuring that HB 2697The Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act, did not gain any traction. The bill would have allowed for numerous occupations to operate without a license, so long as the consumer was notified that the person providing a service was not in fact licensed to do so. The bill had several carve-outs for medical professionals and the like, but would have allowed for the unlicensed surveying, engineering, and other absurd results.

We successfully amended HB 2802, the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act, to require that a partition-in-kind be performed by a licensed West Virginia surveyor. While HB 2802 passed the House, it died in the Senate.

SB 396, Waiving Occupational Licensing Fees for Low-Income Individuals and Military Families, completed legislative action and awaits Governor Justice’s approval. The bill requires licensing boards to waive fees for low-income individuals and military families as those terms are defined in the bill upon a showing by the person seeking the license that they qualify to have the fees waived. The bill gives licensing authorities the ability to promulgate legislative rules to implement the bill’s provisions.

HB 2486, Using Records of Criminal Conviction to Disqualify a Person from Receiving a License for a Profession or Occupation, passed by substantial margins in the House and the Senate. The bill will be sent to Governor Justice for his approval. HB 2486 eliminates reference to the phrase “moral turpitude” in considering whether a person should be granted an occupational license. “Moral turpitude” was replaced with the notion that a crime should be considered in the occupational licensing process if it bears a “rational nexus” to the occupation. HB 2486 creates a methodology by which most Chapter 30 boards should consider a criminal conviction that bears a “rational nexus” to the occupation at issue. The bill has not yet been presented to Governor Justice but should be before him fairly soon.

The biggest revelation from this year’s session was a discussion I had with Senator Dave Sypolt during which he told me that he and Senator Greg Boso are going to study unlicensed practice under all Chapter 30 boards through the 2019 interim meetings. This has been an issue we’ve monitored closely so it will be interesting to see how the discussion develops. Senator Sypolt has also expressed a desire to combine Chapter 30 board administrative functions to promote government efficiency. We will have a seat at these discussions, and your input will be valuable.

I have included a list of other bills here which may be of interest.

A. Legislative Activity Summary

This session, 1,823 total bills were introduced in both the House (1,142 bills) and Senate (681 bills). 294 bills completed legislative activity and await the Governor’s signature. Of the 294 bills completing legislative activity, 139 of them were House bills and 155 of them were Senate bills. Governor Justice has already signed 40 bills into law while he’s vetoed 2.

The remaining bills which have completed legislative activity but have not yet been signed by the Governor will be presented to him over the coming days. Governor Justice has 15 days from receiving a bill to sign or veto it. If he does not sign a bill within the 15 day timeframe, the bill becomes law without his signature.

B. Foster Care

HB 2010, Relating to Foster Care, completed legislative action on the last day of session and now goes to Governor Justice for his consideration. Numerous legislators on both sides of the aisle and in both houses felt that this was the most meaningful bill of the session given our state’s opioid epidemic and the impact that epidemic has had on children and families. The bill transitions care for the state’s nearly 7,000 foster children to a managed care model in order to improve delivery of health care services and better coordination of care. 400,000 West Virginia residents are involved in managed care as they are Medicaid or Medicare recipients.

C. Budget Items

As noted above, the Legislature passed a budget bill before adjourning which did not include teacher and school service personnel pay raises. Other bills passed this session which impact West Virginia’s fiscal condition include a reduction in the severance tax on coal, a program to provide free tuition to community and technical colleges under certain circumstances, and the elimination of the personal income tax on social security income. The state has its largest combined surplus since 1999, driven by increased severance tax, corporate net income tax, consumer sales tax, and personal income tax collections. However, many economic observers wonder how long this surplus trend will continue and question the wisdom of cutting taxes while increasing spending.

D. Municipal Home Rule

SB 4, Relating Generally to Municipal Home Rule Program, has completed legislative action. The bill awaits Governor Justice’s signature. The bill makes permanent a municipal home rule pilot program which provided certain municipalities increased regulatory autonomy and taxation authority so long as the state does not occupy the field with respect to the municipality’s proposed regulatory or tax scheme. Municipalities no doubt consider this bill a victory because the Municipal Home Rule Program initially started as a pilot program. Now that the program is permanent, municipalities will enjoy more autonomy and local control without having to worry about reauthorizing the program in the future.

E. Campaign Finance Reform

SB 622, Relating Generally to Regulation and Control of Financing Elections, completed legislative action on the last day of the session. This bill would raise the individual contribution cap to $2,800 for candidates in both the general and primary election cycles. The former cap for individual contributions was $1,000. The bill would also increase state party executive committee and caucus committee contributions from $1,000 to $10,000. Finally, the bill would increase political action committee contribution limits from $1,000 to $5,000. The bill was passed largely along partisan lines.

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