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Legislative Democrats urge governor to put foster care, broadband, insulin, gas tax bills on special session call

MORGANTOWN – The Legislature was set to go into a special session on Monday to take up 17 bills; but Senate and House Democrats held separate press conferences in the morning before the gavels came down to bring attention to what’s wasn’t on the agenda.

Namely the insulin copay cap bill and the foster care, broadband, VFD and gas tax holiday bills.

All but the gas tax bill – which is newly introduced after weeks of discussion and prior press conferences – met with overwhelming support from one or both houses during the regular session, Senate Democrats said.

They introduced three bills on three of those topics, but all of them died without being considered.

Their press conferences followed a letter Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, sent to Gov. Jim Justice on Friday regarding those issues. Baldwin said Monday he wanted to offer Justice another opportunity to put them on the call before the session began at noon.

HB 4252 would have lowered the copay for a 30-day supply of insulin from $100 to $35; set a

$100 cap for a 30-day supply of devices; and limited the copay for an insulin pump to $250 once every two years. The Senate amended in measures from another bill on the final day and the House never took it up again.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, addressed the urgency of adding the bill to the session call. “There’s crises going on right now. … I know that some of my patients are rationing their insulin.”

They aimed to remedy the problem with SB 2010, which was introduced and sent directly to Senate Rules to die.

The volunteer fire department bill would have added $5 per $100,000 of assessed value to property tax bills, along with various other fees in other parts of code, to help support VFDs. It passed the Senate and died in the House.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “We have to have a viable volunteer firefighting force,” because 80% of the state’s fire response is handled by VFDs. If some collapse, insurance rates will soar.

The attempt to resurrect this, SB 2011, was sent to Rules.

HB 4344 was the foster care bill. In its original form it created a data dashboard to provide information to Legislators and the public that the Department of Health and Human Resources already sends to the feds and clarified some duties of the foster care obmbudsman, among other provisions. The Senate stripped out the dashboard, added in a child abuse hotline and made other changes in the final hours of the final day, and the House never took it back up.

Baldwin said Monday, “I was told it’s being taken care of.” But it’s not on the call. The data dashboard is needed so that Legislators can see how the system is working and make policy changes.

Monday’s version, SB 2012, went to Rules.

Justice vetoed the broadband bill, HB 4001, for fatal flaws and provisions prohibited by federal law and promised to put it on the call, but didn’t because work on it is still ongoing.

Senate Democrats said they’ve heard that some internet service providers object to consumer protections and open-access provisions in the bill and are concerned about competition.

Senate and House Democrats both talked about the gas tax holiday – either suspending the 37.5-cents-per-gallon tax for at least 30 days or providing an immediate rebate to each household and business. They propose to make up the $35 million loss to the Road Fund with a supplemental appropriation from budget surplus – approaching $1 billion.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said, “This is about listening to our constituents.”

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, said GOP leaders have offered a number of excuses for not doing it – hurting road bond ratings, giving a tax break to out-of-state drivers among them – that have all been debunked. “We should be doing what the people need.”

Referring to the governor and GOP leaders, House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said, “Their priorities are all screwed up.”

They’ve presented a bill to Justice, they said. All he needs to do is add it to the call. It wasn’t on Monday’s bill list.

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