House Judiciary began a busy agenda with Committee Substitute for HB 4485, the reorganization bill for the Department of Military Affairs & Public Safety (DMAPS) that is the same or similar to SB 586 that is currently moving in the Senate. Counsel began with a brief history of how DMAPS came to be in Governor Caperton’s administration when he created the Cabinet Secretary positions.
As with SB 586, other bills have been rolled into this committee substitute to avoid code conflicts including HB 4644, separating the Fire Marshal from the Fire Commission, and HB 4401, reorganizing the Resiliency Office and moving it from the Dept. of Commerce to the Governor’s Office. National flood insurance will be placed in the office of the Insurance Commissioner. There were no questions or discussion and the bill passed quickly.
Committee Substitute for HB 4619 authorizes the Public Service Commission to approve plans proposed by electric utilities to install middle-mile broadband fiber and provide expedited cost recovery.
Counsel explained that this bill follows a pilot project last year that authorized an electric utility to lease fiber to internet service providers.
PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane explained that the bill makes it clear that electric utilities are not a telephone utility when they provide the fiber. The electric company works out a lease agreement with the internet provider. Internet service providers are not regulated by the PSC. The bill passed and will go to the full House.
The committee quickly passed HB 4396 that adds a new section relating generally to the Commission on Special Investigations and the State Auditor being informed of fraud and misappropriations by county and municipal governments. The information or allegation ,must be presented in writing to the county prosecutor’s office, the Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, and the State Auditor.
In a discussion lasting over two hours, House Judiciary took up an originating bill based on HB 4837 which would eliminate the suspension of a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and costs. The main goal of the originating bill is mandating a payment plan in order to stop suspending drivers’ licenses. WV currently has over 120,000 suspended licenses in the state, according to counsel. “This has become a criminal justice crisis across the country,” said Delegate Hamrick. This particular bill is based on legislation from several other states that is working.
Current code allows for a payment plan but it is more complex and is not being used. The bill sets up procedure for payment plans and in case of default, authorizes the circuit clerk to record a judgment lien for unpaid fines and costs and establishes a late fee. The debt could also be sent to a collection agency or attorney. The person can still drive on a valid license as long as they are making payments.