From The Well

January 15, 2020

Update from the West Virginia Capitol

Day 8



Incentives for local government consolidation discussed



A bill that has passed the Senate a few times in the past but died in the House was taken up yet again for 2020 in Senate Government Organization. Committee Substitute for SB138 would provide incentives for local governments to consolidate pursuant to the consolidation legislation passed in 2006. No municipality or county has ever used the provisions enacted for consolidations that can include two or more municipalities, two or more counties, or formation of a metro government with a municipality and county.


Incentives for counties include preferential road work from the state, ability to impose a 1% sales tax, and a 10% monthly discount in jail bills for ten years. In the 2006 legislation, fire departments and school districts were exempt from consolidation even if the counties they were in consolidated. SB 138 removes that exemption. Com sub for SB138 passed and will go to Finance. As the lead sponsor stated, “All we can do is provide incentives. We can’t make anyone consolidate.”



House Judiciary takes up Uniform Real Property Act


House Judiciary had the typically lengthy discussions on several bills:


HB4096 requires candidates to live in the state or local election district for the office for which they are seeking to be elected. A Committee Substitute was passed by the committee that is more detailed than the fairly simple introduced bill.  If an elective office doesn’t currently have a residency requirement, such as prosecuting attorney, this bill does not impose one. The word domicile is defined and several factors that come from Supreme Court case law are used to determine domicile or residence.


HB2086, the Uniform Real Property Recording Act, has been introduced but never passed for several years. It creates a new article that will allow but not require County Clerks to receive documents in electronic form. This uniform legislation has been enacted in various forms by 36 states including all of the states surrounding WV except Ohio. The provisions apply only to County Clerks. The bill generated many questions, particularly about potential fraud, and amendments, so Chairman Shott asked Counsel to do some research and the bill will be taken up again on January 15th.


HB2142 passed out of House Judiciary and will go to House Finance. It seeks to help the homeless obtain identification documents by using a homeless shelter or homeless service provider as a mailing address. This must be certified by letter from the stated shelter or service provider. Having identification is an important step in reintegrating the homeless into housing and employment.



Speaker of the House modeled fund after mechanisms used in global economies


Roger Hanshaw, Speaker of the House, calls HB4001 the most important piece of legislation he’s worked on during his tenure in the legislature. The bill creates the West Virginia Impact Fund, Investment Committee and Mountaineer Impact Office to invest funds in certain projects with the goal of furthering economic development, infrastructure development and job creation in West Virginia.


As Hanshaw shared with Suzanne Higgins of WV Public Broadcasting’s WV Legislature Today, it is modeled after mechanisms established in other countries.



House committee discusses 911 bill

HB4071 was discussed in the House Veterans and Homeland Security Committee Tuesday. Relating to the authority of county commissions to establish enhanced emergency telephone systems, the bill makes changes relating to the collection, allocation, establishment or elimination of certain fees. In particular, it strikes out the word telephone and replaces it with electric, meaning 911 fees would come from electric customers as opposed to telephone customers.


Frontier Communications, like other telephone providers, collects 911 fees from its business and residential customers, then turns around and remits those fees to counties on a monthly basis. In return for the administrative work required, the companies retain 3% of the fees collected.


There are twice as many electric bills as there are for landlines. The projected collections would increase from a combined total $68 million a year for both mobile ($42 million) and landline ($26 million) collections to $88.5 million.


Jessica Lane, General Counsel for the Public Service Commission shared her agency’s concerns with bill and for rate payers. The PSC staff is not aware of the 911 centers ever being subject to an audit, to they are not certain the increase is justified. In addition, county commissions can raise the fees at the will of the commission if there is a need.


Sammy Gray, representative for First Energy, shared with the committee that the state’s two electric companies have major concerns with the way the bill is written now.


The committee voted to place the bill in a study resolution.



House exploring ways to expand on 2019 CTC bill
House committees are looking at expanding the work of 2019’s SB1 which created a scholarship fund for students attending community and technical colleges to achieve certifications for in-demand occupations.


Speaker Roger Hanshaw explained that his members are exploring ways to remove impediments to four year colleges offering some of the training programs addressed in last year’s bill.



Committee tables mental health parity bill amid disagreement


SB291, requiring the Public Employees Insurance Agency and other health insurers provide mental health parity, was laid over Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources after PEIA Executive Director Ted Cheatham criticized the bill’s structure and called its mandates are overly broad.


The bill requires PEIA, commercial insurance companies and managed care organizations to cover behavioral health costs at the same level as physical ailments and would, in some cases, restrict them from imposing a quantitive number of visits for those seeking care.


Lobbyist Tom Susman, who represents the West Virginia Association of Behavioral Health Providers, told committee members not-for-profits are often unable to provide services that are covered by PEIA and Medicaid to the entire population. While he admits laws about mental health parity have been on-the-books since the early 2000’s, he said the substance use disorder crisis should prompt reexamination of the parity laws.


Wheeling TV station WTOV reported this month, “[Republican Sen. Ryan] Weld is focusing on a subject that hits very close to home in the Ohio Valley — mental health issues. He’d like to see improved access to help people with mental health problems and also those who have substance abuse issues…”


Weld is the bill’s principal sponsor and argued with Cheatham that the proposed legislation contains no coverage mandates. Cheatham said it is so broad it would mandate PEIA cover all behavioral health disorders, although he admitted most are already covered.


Moving the bill to the table means it can be considered by the committee anytime in the future.



Delegate Hornbuckle returns to service following kidney donation
Cabell County Delegate Sean Hornbucke was given a warm welcome as he returned to his service in the House of Delegates Monday. Hornbuckle missed the beginning of the session because he was on bed-rest after he donated a kidney to his sister.


“My main concern was being able to help her,” Hornbuckle said. “That was the biggest thing. It’s in my nature to help anyway.”


Continue the story from The Herald-Dispatch here



Senate Judiciary Committee discusses Protect our Right to Unite Act


The Senate Judiciary discussed SB16, sponsored by Sens. Azinger, Rucker and Maynard, which would

protect an individual’s right to support nonprofit organizations that represent their beliefs and the nonprofit organization’s right to keep the names and addresses of its supporters confidential. The bill codifies a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958). If a public agency actor violates this protection by making an individual’s name, address, and support for nonprofit groups public, either by publication on a public website or other type of broadcast, this article would give the citizen a right to bring suit for relief. The bill provides for exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, but allows for release of the information under certain circumstances such as court orders. The bill was adopted by the committee with no discussion.




Activity Calendar
The following organizations will have displays at the Capitol or events this week.


Wed, Jan. 15: Tourism Day / WV Travel and Hospitality Association Legislative Reception

Thur, Jan. 16: WV Aviation Day at the Legislature / WV Auto Show VIP Charity Gala 6-8 p.m. (By Invitation Only)

Fri, Jan. 17: Regional Family Resource Network / U. S. Term Limits



WV Legislature
Legislature Live


Meeting Notices
Proposed Rules


Legislative Wrap-up
Some information in this update is collected from the WV Legislature’s Daily/Weekly Blogs.



Hartman Harman Cosco, Public Policy Strategists, LLC, (H2C) is a strategically assembled bipartisan lobbying firm comprised of legal, communications and policy professionals. H2C possesses the insight and intuition that only comes from decades of hands on experience leading community and statewide initiatives.


Scott Cosco

Hartman Harman Cosco, LLC | | 800-346-5127