House passes gambling, hunting, tax bills

CHARLESTON – While most eyes and minds were on the passage of the House teacher pay raise bill on Friday, the House of Delegates also passed a pile of other significant — and a few under-the-radar — bills.

Here’s a look at them.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer asks questions during a bill debate.

— SB 13 is the last step in a series of moves to restore special assessments levied against a number of industries in 2005 to pay off the $4 billion worker’s compensation debt. Annual assessments against coal, natural gas and others have already terminated.

SB 13 restores the $11 million annual draw from the purse funds of the four racetracks. Members spent more than 30 minutes Thursday debating and defeating a proposed amendment to send the money to the 55 county school boards. The argument that the money belongs to the tracks and restoring it fulfills a promise prevailed.

Delegate Pat McGeehan seeks to have his bill discharged from committee.

So the bill passed Friday with no debate, 86-10. All local delegates of both parties voted for it. It returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.

— HB 2532 allows the DMV to prepare forms so that people applying for or renewing a driver’s license or vehicle registration can voluntarily donate $3, $5, $10, or any amount to the Department of Veterans Assistance, the Farm Bureau Foundation, the West Virginia University Foundation for the 4H Youth Education Program, or the Future Farmers of America Education Foundation.

It passed 96-0 and goes to the Senate.

— HB 2540 is an anti-poaching bill and apart from the teacher pay raise bill sparked the most debate of the day. It forbids any hunter “through carelessness, neglect or otherwise to let any edible portion of any big game or game fish to go to waste needlessly.”

Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, was among those who explained that people will come in, shoot a big buck, take the head for a trophy and leave the rest on the forest floor.

Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, was among those who argued that a hunter who buys a license and legally downs an animal is by rights the owner of that late animal and shouldn’t face jail time for doing what he wants with his own property. No one goes to jail for buying meat at the grocery store and letting it go to waste.

The anti-poaching arguments won the day and it passed 79-17. Locally, Democrats Evan Hansen and Danielle Walker and Republican Buck Jennings voted no. Democrats Michael Angelucci, Barbara Evans Fleischauer, Linda Longstreth, Dave Pethtel, Rodney Pyles and John Williams, and Republicans Amy Summers and Terri Sypolt voted yes. Democrat Mike Caputo was absent.

It goes to the Senate.

— HB 2541 requires schools to set up safety plans and describes what they should include. It passed 96-0 and goes to the Senate.

— HB 2829 ends the severance tax on limestone and sandstone. Members learned in committee that the chief problem is that the tax isn’t uniform. It’s based on the value of the stone, which is determined by production costs. It costs less to mine from a cave than to take down trees and dig down through layers of dirt and rock to create a quarry. So the surface quarries are taxed more.

And it can take up to two years for the Tax Department to audit the business’ records to determine the tax. So they’re selling their rock while unsure how it will be taxed down the road. Neighboring Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland don’t have a severance tax and most of the production takes place in the eastern part of the state, so those businesses are at a competitive disadvantage.

And the Division of Highways is the single biggest customer for the industry, so ending the tax would save the DOH money that could be put to other needs.

Ending the tax would cost the state a projected $1.2 million a year, but about half of that is paid by the DOH. And increased sales could help offset more of the loss, and stimulate jobs and business activity.

Hansen, D-Monongalia, argued against ending it, saying West Virginia does a poor job turning its natural resources into wealth. All severance taxes should be higher to support education and other important state obligations.

The bill passed 78-16 and goes to the Senate. Locally, Fleischauer, Hansen, Pyles and Walker voted no; the rest voted yes.

—HB 2901 allows the four racetracks to establish satellite casinos in their home counties. It was subject to extensive debate Thursday during the amendment stage and passed without further discussion. It passed 80-15 and goes to the Senate. Locally, Jennings voted no; all the rest voted yes.

— HB 2934 authorizes and regulates online interactive wagering via computer or handheld device. It’s intended to help end the lucrative black market online wagering and produce new state revenue.

It passed 72-22 and goes to the Senate. Locally, Jennings and Summers voted no; the rest voted yes.

— Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, is a steadfast advocate for adhering to the state and U.S. Constitutions. He attempted to have discharged from the Judiciary Committee his HB 2732, which would forbid deploying the West Virginia National Guard overseas without a declaration of war or Congressional authorization.

He argued, as dose his bipartisan-sponsored bill, that since World War II, the executive branch has usurped Congress’ role in sending the nation to war.

Majority Leader Summers, R-Taylor, moved to table McGeehan’s motion to discharge. The tabling motion barely prevailed, 49-47, and the bill remains in committee where it will die. Jennings, Summers and Sypolt voted to table. The rest voted against.

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