Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

House passes its budget bill; delays action on intermediate court bill

MORGANTOWN — The House of Delegates spent more than three hours on the budget bill Wednesday afternoon and approved its version in an overwhelming 95-5 votes.

In the process, 14 Democrat amendments totaling about $17 million were shot down in party line votes.

Only one amendment was adopted, to devote $3.3 million to the creation of a second Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy in Montgomery on the former WVU Tech campus. The money came from the state Supreme Court budget: a $10 million increase proposed by the governor was trimmed to $6.7 million and the remainder was funneled to the new academy.

The House was working with the Senate budget bill, SB 150. The House amended its bill into the Senate bill and sent it back to the Senate. As the budget process always works: The Senate will refuse to concur with the House amendments and it will go to conference committee to reach a compromise.

Leadership of both houses hope to complete and pass the final bill by midnight Saturday, when the session ends, and avoid going into extended session.

Finance chair Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said the governor’s General Fund budget is $4.585 billon. The House version is a bit lower at $4.579 billion.

The bill includes $9 million for Tourism from general revenue plus another $6.7 million from Lottery money and possibly $5 million from surplus if there is one.

The House is funding the Department of Health and Human Resources at $1.17 billion, which includes an additional $19 million to eliminate the IDD Waiver waiting list and $16.8 million in new money for foster care.

The amendments that perished proposed to take money from Medicaid for various social programs.

Delegate Danielle Walker makes a point about budget priorities.

The delegates talked about taking the money from what they’re calling the DHHR “lockbox,” which is the governor’s proposed Medicaid Families First Reserve Fund, a kind of rainy day fund for Medicaid. Gov. Jim Justice proposed to launch it with $150 million drawn from other DHHR funds. The bill to enact the fund, SB 633, has been sitting in House Finance since Feb. 26.

Among the items that could affect budget negotiations, Householder said, are the Senate’s Intermediate Court of Appeals bill, SB 275, which was on second reading in the House on Wednesday, and proposed judicial pay raises, which the House cut in half.

Leading up to the final vote, Householder said, “This is a good and balanced budget. It works within our available means to bring a great amount of good to the citizens of our state.”

Three Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill. Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was among them. “There are many good things in the budget but there are a whole lot of things we can afford that are not,” he said, referring to the defeated amendments.

Several bills with fiscal impact still awaited action, he said, and it would be wiser to take the budget into extended session.

Finance minority chair Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, also objected to the failure to tap the lockbox but said the House budget is otherwise a good one and he would work with Householder to defend the House position in negotiations.

All local delegates voted for it.

Other House action

The floor session began at 10 a.m. and was interrupted for close to an hour by a recess sparked by a fire alarm in the building (the Senate also recessed). By 6:40 p.m., it had handled only 10 bills on third reading and six on second reading, with about 40 to go.

Delegates and House staff await the all-clear outside.

SB 275, the somewhat unpopular intermediate appeals court bill, was up next and the House Judiciary amendment was up for debate.  So members agreed to postpone action on it until Thursday.

Delegates did pass SB 289, which creates a Green Alert Plan. It’s modeled after the Amber Alert for children and Silver Alert for seniors. It calls on the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to establish the Green Alert Plan authorizing the broadcast media, upon notice from the State Police, to broadcast an alert to inform the public of a missing at-risk veteran.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, Military Committee chair and lead sponsor, previously said the at-risk veteran or active service member considered under this plan would have a service-related physical or mental health condition. Such veterans and service members often commit suicide.

The plan excludes dishonorably discharged veterans and on the House floor, Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, said those veterans offer have suffered as much or more than their honorably discharged colleagues and suggested that issue be the subject of an interim study. Veterans affairs vice-chair Jim Butler agreed.

The bill was on second reading, The House adopted an amendment containing some technical cleanup then suspended its rules to read it a third time and pass it 93-0.

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