WVSPS Legislative Update

The second session of the 84th Legislature adjourned sine die on Saturday, March 7 at midnight. Since the adjournment of the Legislative session, much has transpired around the world with the evolution of COVID-19. To read more about the many Executive Orders, Federal CARES Act benefits and for a full list of other resources, please visit the WV Legislature’s website here.

The report below is an update regarding what transpired in the second session of the 84th Legislature and includes a final bill tracking list.

I. Legislative Activity

This session, 2,389 bills were introduced across both houses. The Senate introduced 856 bills while the House introduced 1,533 bills. 243 House bills passed out of the House, while 258 Senate bills passed out of the Senate. 355 bills completed legislative action, meaning that they passed both houses. The 355 bills completing legislative action includes 187 House bills and 168 Senate bills. So, the Senate was successful in getting more bills out of its chamber, but the House saw more of its bills complete legislative action.

Governor Jim Justice has signed 54 bills as of the writing of this report. The Governor has three options when considering a bill: he can veto it, he can sign it into law, or he can let it become law without his signature. The Governor has 15 days to act on a bill when it is presented to him outside of session, which represents an overwhelming majority of legislation. In any event, we will know at the end of the March what bills became law and which ones did not.

II. Bills Impacting WVSPS

Although neither H.C.R. 114 nor H.C.R. 115 completed legislative action, I think they merit consideration and discussion by the WVSPS. H.C.R. 114 requests that the Joint Committee on Government and Finance authorize the study of licensure, certification, and registration forms of occupational and professional regulation. H.C.R. 115 requests that the Joint Committee on Government and Finance study the feasibility of a single building to house all occupational and professional regulatory boards. Both H.C.R. 114 and H.C.R. 115 passed the House but did not pass the Senate. However, it’s apparent from these resolutions that occupational licensure will continue to be in the crosshairs of legislative leadership as we look past 2020 and beyond.

HB 4353 creates a rational nexus requirement between prior criminal conduct and initial occupational licensure decision-making. The stated purpose of the bill is to remove barriers to employment for individuals with criminal records who seek licensure or certification in an occupation governed by state laws, with certain exceptions. The bill was recommended for introduction and passage during the 2020 Regular Session by the Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization. HB 4353 completed legislative action on February 19, 2020 and was signed into law by Governor Justice on March 5, 2020.

HB 4011 was designed to reorganize the articles in the current Chapter 30 regarding licensing of professions and occupations, into three separate chapters arranged by duties and educational requirements, both prior to and following licensing. Although surveyors would have been included in the portion of Chapter 30 which includes educational requirements, the bill was seen by many as an attempt to make it easier to amend certain provisions of Chapter 30 in the future. So, while surveyors weren’t being targeted, the bill would have made it easier for surveyors to be targeted in the future. Many Democratic members of the House felt that the bill was so ill-conceived, they moved to recommit it to the House Committee on Government Organizations. HB 4011 passed the House but did not gain any traction in the Senate.

The Senate has historically been our backstop for attacks on occupational and professional licensure. Being the more deliberative body, this makes sense. Going forward, I don’t expect the House to change its course with respect to occupational licensing. West Virginia has a historically low workforce participation rate, and some policymakers in the House continue to think that occupational licensing presents a barrier for those seeking to find work. Right or wrong, these are the circumstances we face. We have compelling arguments on our side in terms of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the general public, but sound logic doesn’t always carry the day in politics. We will have to remain vigilant.

III. Other Important Bills Which Passed

A. HB 4001Mountaineer Impact Fund – HB 4001 establishes the Mountaineer Impact Fund, which will provide a vehicle for the State of West Virginia to partner with potential major investors to boost economic development and job creation in the Mountain State. This legislation was the top-priority economic development bill for House Speaker Roger Hanshaw. HB 4001 completed legislative action on Thursday, March 5th.

B. HB 4092Foster Care – HB 4092 is a comprehensive piece of legislation to assist foster families in West Virginia. Currently, over 7,000 children in the state are in foster care and that number continues to increase. HB 4092 provides $16.9 million in additional compensation for foster families, with a tiered system in place. It also enumerates a bill of rights for foster children and foster families. HB 4092 was championed as a bi-partisan bill this session.

C. SB 597Judicial Pay Raise – SB 597 contains the first pay raise for members of the West Virginia judiciary in nearly a decade. Pay raises will be implemented over a 2-year period beginning in 2021 for Supreme Court justices, Circuit Court judges and magistrates. Family court judges will receive a one-time, larger raise that goes into effect on July 1 of this year. Support for the judicial pay raise was bi-partisan in both the Senate and House.

D. HB 4494Establishment of Tobacco Use Cessation Initiative – HB 4494 establishes a Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Task Force that will utilize scientific-backed methods to lower tobacco use in West Virginia, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the highest cigarette-use in the nation. The funding for this initiative will be derived from grants and private donations. The original language of this will would have used 25% of the interest generated from “Rainy Day B,” which contains funds from the large tobacco settlement which occurred in the 1990s. This language, however, was stricken over concerns about setting a precedent regarding the use of interest from the Rainy Day funds. HB 4494 passed both the Senate and the House with strong bi-partisan support.

IV. Other Important Bills Which Did Not Pass

A. SB 275Intermediate Court of Appeals – Rejected by House–SB 275 would have created an intermediate appellate court in West Virginia. Intermediate appellate court bills passed the Senate during the 2018 & 2019 legislative sessions, but were never heard in the House. SB 275 placed a focus on providing some relief to the dockets of Circuit Courts in West Virginia by requiring all appeals from family courts to go straight to the new intermediate appellate court. The Kanawha County Circuit would also have received additional relief, as appeals stemming from the State Administrative Procedures Act were set to go to the new intermediate appellate court. The bill passed the House Judiciary and House Finance Committees and was put on the floor for a vote last Friday. Despite strong support from the West Virginia business community, 15 Republicans defected and voted with all House Democrats to kill the bill.

B. SJR 9 and SB 837Phasing out various tangible personal property taxes in West Virginia – SJR 9 Rejected by the Senate (Did not obtain 2/3 majority) – SJR 9 and SB 837 were companion pieces of legislation that were designed to phase out various tangible personal property taxes in the state. SJR 9 was an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution that would have given taxation authority to the Legislature. Because it was an amendment to the Constitution, it required a 2/3 majority in both the West Virginia Senate and the West Virginia House of Delegates, and subsequent ratification by the voters. SB 837 would only have taken effect if SJR 9 was approved, but would have implemented a six-year phase out of the tangible personal property tax on manufacturing machinery, equipment and inventory; retail inventory; and automobiles. SB 837 passed the Senate with a 17-16 majority, but SJR 9 was rejected by the Senate after failing to obtain a 2/3 majority. 18 Republicans voted for the resolution, but all 14 Democrats and Republican Senators Bill Hamilton and John Pitsenbarger voted against it. 23 Senators in total were needed to secure passage.

V. Conclusion

Although the session produced a number of good bills, particularly the legislation aimed at improving the state’s foster care crisis, legislative leadership did not attain their policy goals in removing the business and inventory personal property tax and creating an intermediate appellate court. Both the inventory tax and appellate court have been high on leadership’s agenda for several years. With election 2020 around the corner, it remains to be seen whether these policy items will stay at the top of leadership’s agenda.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,

Will Swann

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