CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates adjourned Saturday, March 12 at midnight having completed 293 bills, including a budget bill.
Senate Bill 250, the budget bill, was a compromise among the Senate, House and the Executive branch. The measure passed the full House after a two-hour debate during which House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, spoke in support of the bill for both fiscal and policy reasons.
“It’s the primary Constitutional obligation we have as members of this body; it’s the way we set the priorities of the state in so many ways,” Hanshaw said from the floor. “In fact, I’ve heard a number of our colleagues before describe this budget, not just this budget but our budget, as a moral document — as a representation of where the state of West Virginia goes with respect to our shared priorities and our shared collectives.”
House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, explained the compromise budget surplus totals $1 billion, and a General Revenue fund with 44% designated for public education and includes another pay raise for teachers; 26% dedicated to social services including a pay raise for Child Protective Services workers; and 10% allocated for higher education. The Legislature allocated dollars to “Save the Music,” Healthy Grandfamilies, public broadcasting and future income tax relief also was planned, along with a return of the film investment tax credit after much study and improvement.
House Bill 4008 also completed the legislative process and will allow the state Higher Education Policy Commission to work with the state Community and Technical College System to create a performance-based funding model. The model was led by the higher education institutions themselves, after two years of collaborative work, and the bill unanimously passed the full House.
The 60-day regular legislative session began with an extraordinary session to help secure the largest investment in the state’s history. The specific intent of the package of bills addressed during the special session helped clinch the announced $2.7 billion Nucor investment in Mason County and the Northern Panhandle. The project is expected to bring about 1,000 construction jobs and 800 full-time jobs with benefits.
After more than a decade of efforts to make the state’s current Department of Health and Human Resources more manageable, effective and efficient, House Bill 4020 marks a new era in West Virginia’s public health by approaching those goals through a newly created Department of Health and Department of Human Resources, each with its own cabinet secretary. The stand-alone Department of Health will include the bureaus of Public Health, Health Facilities, Inspector General, the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification as well as the state Health Care Authority; the separate Department of Human Resources will include the bureaus of Social Services, Medical Services, Child Support Enforcement, Family Assistance and Behavioral Health, which includes the state Office of Drug Control Policy as well as the Office of Maternal Child and Family Health. Two secretaries of the new agencies will be in office by January 2023, if the bill becomes law. Efforts also were made this session to provide more flexibility to the DHHR cabinet secretary to allocate CPS workers to best fit the dire needs the state has experienced.
Bills that continue to make advances in broadband connectivity and competition completed the legislative process, as well as bills that look to pave the way for the state to capitalize on new economic investments, such as House Bill 4098, which makes it clear in state code that geothermal energy may be developed in West Virginia; House Bill 4003, which would establish a clear legal right of title to the chemical compounds, elements and substances derived from the treatment of acid mine drainage, setting definitive roles in the cleanup and extraction of rare earth elements from those coal waste piles; and House Bill 4002 which creates the certified sites and development readiness program, to help secure the state’s position among site selection consultants to help land the next big economic engine.
The House completed legislative action Jan. 31 on Senate Bill 4. The bill repeals a 26-year ban the Legislature had enacted on construction of new nuclear power facilities and allows for the possibility of nuclear energy production rounding out West Virginia’s power portfolio and indicating to the global economy that the state is successfully transitioning its economy.