Business, Energy, Government, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

State Senate sends its TikTok ban bill to the House of Delegates; bill to promote gas-fired power plants also advances

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate passed its version of the TikTok ban bill on Wednesday and sent it over to the House, where its bill awaits Judiciary Committee review.

The TikTok bill was among several the Senate sent across the Capitol on Wednesday.

Both TikTok bills originated as identical bills submitted by the governor.

The Senate’s SB 426 says that the chief information security officer (CISO) will develop standards regarding banned high-risk technology platforms or products. All levels of government — local governments, K-12 schools, higher education, and state entities — must enforce those standards.

In addition, all levels of government “must remove, restrict, and ban those high-risk technology platforms or products that pose a cybersecurity threat from all government systems, services, networks, devices, or locations.”

The bill contains a specific reference to TikTok. It adds exceptions for use of those platforms for law-enforcement activities, national-security interests and activities, security research, investigative efforts, and for purposes related to litigation involving the state or one of its agencies or officers.

CISO Danielle Cox previously told House and Senate committees that TikTok in particular contains and monitors an excessive amount of data about users’ movements and relationships that goes directly to the Communist Chinese government. That opens up cyberthreats of bribery, election manipulation and more.

But TikTok isn’t the only platform or technology of concern, she said. Her office and other state CISOs work with the federal government, which uses threat intelligence to review an ever-changing array of platforms and technologies to see how data is being used.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Judiciary vice chair Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, related an anecdote about TikTok being caught tracking the locations of two journalists who were working on a story about TikTok.

He said that the bill overall allows the state to be more fast-moving in responding to threats than just banning one app.

The vote was unanimous.

The House bill, HB 2898, is essentially the same, with two differences. One, out of concern for separation of powers, the House bill simply recommends that agencies in the legislative and judicial branches adopt the standards and practices put forth by the CISO. And it removes the specific reference to TikTok to keep it more timeless and general.

Gas-fired power plant bill

SB 188 is the Grid Stabilization and Security Act. It opens with a series of legislative findings that say gas-fired power is highly underdeveloped in comparison to nearby states that West Virginia competes with for economically beneficial projects.

Therefore, state agencies should attempt to promote coordination, simplification and harmonization, the findings say.

Getting to the meat of the legislation, the bill says the Department of Economic Development will identify economically viable sites for gas-fired power projects — near gas wells or pipelines, transmission infrastructure and areas that fulfill state air quality requirements.

Economic Development will inform the Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Service Commission about its choice of sites. The bill then requires expedited permitting to get the projects rolling.

In committee, the bill generated some friction with the coal industry, which worried that the findings could serve to undermine coal’s interests in the state. Chris Hamilton, West Virginia Coal Association president, said he supported the bill but suggested tempering or removing the findings, but that wasn’t done.

Wednesday’s vote on the Senate floor was 28-3, with all the votes against coming from Republicans: coal miners Randy Smith, Tucker, and Rupie Phillips, Logan, along with Sen. Laura Chapman, Ohio.

Rainy Day Fund

Finance chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, took a few minutes at the end of the floor session to talk about the budget surplus and the Rainy Day Fund.

The January surplus, he said, was $162.2 million. The year-to-date surplus is $995,275,701.

With weaker markets, the Rainy Day Fund stands at $916,499,422, compared to $1 billion last year. State code requires the state to make a deposit into the Rainy Day Fund of up to 50% of the surplus to bring the combined A and B Rainy Day Funds balance to 20% of the prior fiscal year’s revenue expenditures.

The expenditure number they’re looking at, he said, is about $6 billion, meaning they’ll have to deposit about $300 million into the fund at the end of this year. The deposit figure could grow if markets continue to fall.

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