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Some legislative priority bills are working their way to completion, others are stalled

MORGANTOWN – Friday was the 38th day of the 60-day legislative session – just past halfway, and heading toward Day 50, Crossover Day, the last day for bills to pass out of their house of origin in order to have a chance to survive.

It’s typical that much of the most serious action happens in the final, hectic couple weeks. This session is no execption.

As of Friday, the House had passed 93 bills; the Senate had passed 103. Only 21 have gone to the governor – 12 Senate bills and nine House bills.

Only eight of those have been signed by the governor, and only one of them reflects a major priority announced before the session. That’s SB 4, to lift the ban on nuclear power so the state can explore new advanced reactor technology as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Other priority bills are still in process.

Senate President Craig Blair talked about his mining mutual insurance company bill before the session began. His bill, SB 1 creates the mining mutual as a domestic, private corporation, in the same manner the Physicians Mutual in 2003 and BrickStreet in 2005 – for Workers Compensation – were previously created.

When it was up for passage, Blair, R-Berkeley, stepped down from the president’s dais to explain his support for the bill to the members. “This bill will actually help protect West Virginia,” he said – the mining companies, severance taxes and its baseload energy supply. “If we wouldn’t do this, then its just a roulette wheel.”

The Senate passed it unanimously on Jan. 26. The next day the House sent it to its Energy Committee and it’s been sitting there since.

At the other end of the Capitol, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has pushed HB 4002, which creates the Certified Sites and Development Readiness Program bill – a drive to make West Virginia more competitive with other states for businesses and industries scouting potential sites for new locations. Those companies want shovel-ready sites with solid infrastructure and access to transportation corridors.

That bill just passed the House on Wednesday, 98-0, and went to the Senate, where it’s in the hands of the Economic Development Committee, a subject matter committee that meets only once a week. Its next meeting should be Wednesday.

The governor also signed SB 244, regarding appointing judges to the new intermediate appeals court.

Economic development has been a stated priority for both houses.

HB 4007 is the latest in a years-long effort to reduce the personal income tax to put more spending money in people’s pockets. It arrived in the Senate on Valentine’s Day and is awaiting action by the Finance Committee.

There’s an interest in the potential to extract valuable rare earth elements and critical minerals from mine runoff and the House has sent two bills to advance that cause to the Senate: HB 4003 and HB 4025. HB 4003 has been sitting in Senate Energy since Feb. 8. HB 4025, dealing with a taxation exemption for the minerals, just arrived in the Senate Friday.

The House sent a bill aimed at developing the plastics industry through advanced recycling, HB 4084, to the Senate on Feb. 8, and it’s sitting in Economic Development.

The 2014 Freedom Industries spill contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and reminded people that business can’t always be left to police itself. The Legislature responded with an expansive bill that’s been scaled back a couple times and is up for another scaling-back this session.

HB 2598 would exclude from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act’s inspection requirements tanks having a capacity of 210 barrels (8,820 gallons) or less, containing brine water or other fluids produced in connection with oil and gas production activities within a zone of critical concern – within five hours upstream of a drinking water intake.

Supporters say it will reduce costs for small operators who fear that they may have to plug marginal wells because of those costs. It provides for operators to inspect their own tanks annually instead of hiring a professional engineer for an inspection every three years. And it reduces inspections of secondary containment to once a month instead of every two weeks.

It came to the Senate on Wednesday and is in the Energy Committee.

On the health front, HB 4252 lowers the copay for a 30-day supply of insulin from $100 to $30; sets a $100 cap for a 30-day supply of devices, defined as blood glucose test strips, glucometers, continuous glucometers, lancets, lancing devices and insulin syringes; and limits the copay for an insulin pump to

$250 once every two years.

It passed the House 94-3 on Jan. 26 and has been sitting idle in Senate Health ever since.

West Virginia’s status as a purple state has been evident not the least in the Legislature’s overwhelming pro-life stance on the abortion issue, even in the days of Democratic majority. This year, two abortion-related bills are in the system.

HB 4004, the bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, and HB 4005, to ban the sale of fetal parts from induced abortions, both passed on Tuesday and are both in Senate Health.

One other priority announced before the session began was the development of a new higher education funding formula. Two bills reflecting a yearlong effort undertaken by the Higher Education Policy Commission, university and college presidents, legislators and other parties are in the system.

The Senate has SB 550, passed Feb. 10 and in the hands of House Finance. The House bill, HB 4008, passed from that chamber on Wednesday and has two stops in the Senate: Education and Finance.

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