Legislative leaders shared their visions for the 2020 session before it started Jan. 8.
A pandemic was not in view. Among their goals: Ending the tax on business equipment, inventory and machinery; creating a state-backed investment fund to draw outside dollars; and getting people back to work.
Reflecting on the inventory tax, Senate President Mitch Carmichael said, “This is the number one job-killing tax in the state.” It’s been talked about for more than three decades, and highlighted as an obstacle in three governors’ reports. “We want to be the legislature that gets rid of it.”
The problem is, the tax funds schools and counties. Figuring out how to replace it has been a sticking point. Carmichael said he sees making it up through natural economic growth.
The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act drew debate before passing the House of Delegates 93-5.
It requires a physician who attempts or performs an abortion that results in a live birth to exercise due medical judgment to preserve the baby’s life and have it transported to a hospital. For failure to comply, it sets civil and criminal penalties for the physician and any witnesses who fail to report the failure, but exempts the patient. It was sent to governor Feb. 27.
Morgantown’s annexation conflict rippled to the Capitol, where the Senate Government Organization Committee began work on a bill to ban annexation by minor boundary adjustment.
The committee took up a substitute version of SB 209 that changed the outright ban to a restricted approach to minor boundary adjustment. The committee substitute would require each business, voter and freeholder in the territory proposed for annexation to execute an affidavit of consent.
Eight days later, SB 209 passed 32-0 without discussion and went to the House, where it passed Feb. 20. The governor signed it March 6.
The House Energy Committee spent another two hours — bringing the total to four — exploring a bill intended to promote economic growth by drawing green-minded manufacturers and high-tech firms with renewable energy portfolio goals into the state.
HB 4562 is called the Renewable Energy Facilities Program and came at the request of the state Department of Commerce.
The bill refers to renewable portfolio-minded companies as its reason for existence. It allows electric utilities (FirstEnergy and American Electric Power) to build or buy and then own and operate a solar plant. The bill provides an expedited Public Service Commission approval process.
The bill was well received but adapted into the similar Senate Bill, SB 583, which passed the Senate Feb. 14 and the House March 3. The governor signed it March 25.
Marion County’s three delegates rose on the House floor to decry the planned closure of Fairmont Regional Medical Center and plea for help to keep it open.
The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the Senate resolution to call on Congress to call a convention to propose a constitutional amendment setting congressional term limits.
Only nine people turned out. Seven opposed it; two favored it. Committee chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said he wasn’t in a hurry to take up the resolution, SCR 4.
SCR 4 applies to Congress to call a convention for the sole purpose of term limits. It didn’t make it through the House.
Also, the state Senate failed in its latest attempt to end greyhound racing in the state, as its bill to discontinue the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund died 11-23 on the Senate floor.
The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved Speaker Roger Hanshaw’s signature economic development bill: His West Virginia Impact Fund. The House spent more than two hours deciphering and debating HB 4001 and considering amendments. The bulk of the time was spent considering a Hanshaw amendment that replaced the entire bill with a rewrite that wrapped in various improvements suggested by delegates and stakeholders.
The aim of the bill, Hanshaw said, is to allow the Mountaineer Impact Office to scan the globe for major investors — foreign or domestic — interested in pursuing projects worth at least $25 million in West Virginia’s shale basins. The bill creates the Impact Fund, an Impact Committee and the Mountaineer Impact Office.
After 2.5 hours of debate, Senate leadership’s signature business tax cut bill barely passed, 17-16. Two Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrat opposition on SB 837. That did not bode well for the companion constitutional amendment, SJR 9, which would need 23 votes to pass and be put before the voters to enable the legislation.
The writing was on the wall for SJR 9, the Senate’s lynchpin business tax cut constitutional amendment. SJR 9 needed a supermajority 23 votes to pass and keep SB 837 alive, but the vote was 18-16 and it died in House Finance.
The House bill to cap insulin copays for diabetes patients escaped death in the Senate and came through Senate Health with one significant change: The copay cap for a 30-day supply rose from $25 to $100, matching a couple of the other insulin bills that were introduced. HB 4543 passed the House 94-4 Feb. 19. It sailed through Senate Finance and would hit the floor in time to pass on the last day of the session.
Hanshaw’s economic development bill, HB 4001, passed the Senate 30-3 after clearing Finance. The governor signed it March 12.
HB 4543 is the insulin bill. There was talk that the House was considering seeking a compromise copay of $50 and people with insight into the bill confirmed that some informal approaches were being made.
There was concern the House might try to amend the bill to reflect that interest and send it back to the Senate where lack of time would probably do it in. But the legislators close to the bill said the House would just accept the Senate version rather than risk the whole bill.
The bill appeared on a list issued at 9:40 p.m. of bills up for action; it was skipped over. The vote to accept the Senate version came at 10:41 p.m. and the House passed it 96-4. But it required some additional technical amendment and had to go back to the Senate. So the fate of the bill came down to the wire. The Senate agreed to the new House amendments at 11:22 p.m. The governor it March 25.