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Legislature sails through 12 bills on first day of special session; medical cannabis bill sees opposition on House floor

MORGANTOWN – The Legislature breezed through 12 bills during the first day of its April special session.

The process saw only one real glitch when the House of Delegates refused to fast-track passage of a bill limiting the number of medical cannabis testing laboratories to two until Jan. 1, 2025. It also forbids the two labs from conspiring to fix prices.

That bill is HB 213, a resurrection of HB 4267, which died on the last day of the regular session in March.

It had a difficult journey then. It died in House Judiciary in February, then was reconsidered and passed. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said at the time that the medical cannabis law is drafted badly overall and favors big players from out of state. This bill offered a chance for a locally owned Raleigh County lab to get a foot in the door. It’s made a huge investment and could go out of business without the bill.

Delegate Adam Burkhammer, R-Lewis, said in Judiciary that he opposed it because it picks winners and losers.

On the House floor, it passed on Feb. 24 with a 67-33 vote – all opposition from Republicans – and then passed the Senate at 6:42 p.m. March 12, the session’s last day, with a 30-3 vote. The Senate amended in the sunset provision and sent it back to the House, which didn’t take it up again until 11:45 p.m. The House concurred in the Senate amendment, but the Senate had other priorities in the final minutes and didn’t return to it to give it final approval.

On Monday, the House gave SB 213 its first reading, but when Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, moved to suspend the rules to pass it in one day, Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, opposed it, saying the bill discourages competition and creates a monopoly for two labs.

Delegate Diana Graves, R-Kanawha, defended the bill. She said the problem it intends to address was created by the failure of the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Those two companies made the window for the bids, invested millions of dollars based on DHHR assurances and DHHR then fell through on its assurances. So the issue will likely go to court where the companies will recoup their money without ever setting up labs.

With 92 delegates present, Summers’ motion needed 76 votes – four-fifths of those present – to succeed. It gain only 61, with opposition from both parties. So the bill will be on second reading on Tuesday.

Only one bill saw House committee consideration on Monday. SB 2001 creates a loan fund for the Economic Development Authority to support economic development projects. It’s projected up to $600 million of budget surplus could go into the fund.

After the noon floor session, House Finance met, discussed and approved the bill and returned it to the House floor for the 7 p.m. session. It saw a first reading but failed to gain the four-fifths supermajority to have two more readings and go to a vote – needing 70 votes to suspend the rules and getting only 66.

Other bill action

The 17 bills on the govenor’s call were either vetoed for technical reasons or simply died during the session. These bills will go to the governor after passing both houses on Monday:

  • HB 210 permits the use of air rifles during hunting.
  • HB 212 includes family court judges in the Judges Retirement System.
  • HB 214 allows advance practice registered nurses and physician assistants to prescribe Schedule II drugs for up to three days; forbids them prescribing Schedule I drugs and removes all other limitations on their prescriptive authority.
  • HB 215 creates the Military Authority Reimbursable Expenditure Fund to support National Guard operations and pay tuition and fees for spouses and children of veterans who are killed in action or die from service-related illnesses or injuries.
  • HB 216 deals with calculating accrued benefits for the Municipal Police Officer and Firefighters Retirement System.
  • HB 217 appropriates $250 million to the Economic Enhancement Grant Fund, managed by the West Virginia Water Development Authority, to provide matching grants to municipalities for use in upgrading infrastructure such as water and sewer systems.
  • SB 2003 and 2004 both deal with the Public Employees Retirement System.
  • SB 2005 creates the Unemployment Compensation Insurance Fraud Unit in WorkForce West Virginia.
  • SB 2007 makes tweaks to the Real Estate License Act.
  • SB 2008 allows the Division of Natural Resources to solicit voluntary donations to the WVU Rifle Team on all online applications for hunting and fishing licenses. It was the only bill not to pass the House unanimously, with Pushkin and Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, voting no.
  • SB 2009 allows high school students to obtain up to six elective course credits for participating in extended learning programs outside the traditional classroom. The programs must be approved by the state Board of Education.
  • SB 2013 deals with the crime of flying under the influence (FUI) and other aviation offenses.

The Senate and House reconvene at 8 a.m. Tuesday to resume work on the remaining bills.

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