Business, Environment, Healthcare, West Virginia Legislature

Senate sends to House carbon credit, driving doctors and charitable giving bills on Crossover Day, kills timberland carbon tax bill

MORGANTOWN – The Senate sent a series of bills to the House of Delegates on Wednesday – Crossover Day – on such issues as speeding doctors, carbon credits, charitable giving, churches and dental work.

The most hotly debated bill of the day, a hefty tax on setting aside timberlands for carbon offsets, ended up getting sent to the Rules Committee to die.

Crossover Day is the 50th day of the legislative session, the deadline for bills to clear their house of origin and go to the other chamber.

SB 377 authorizes a special emblem for physicians to display on their cars to allow them to break the speed limit when they are traveling to an emergency. They must still drive safely and are not relieved of the consequences of reckless disregard for safety. The two physician boards will draft rules for obtaining and using the emblem.

It passed 32-0.

SB 618 would create a state Carbon Exchange Program administered by the Division of Forestry. It would give oversight of the sale and purchase of carbon credits generated by timber harvest restrictions and other forestry practices.

It says citizens of or entities organized in or controlled by citizens or governments of a Country of Particular Concern are ineligible to register for the exchange. It passed 27-5, with all opposing votes by Republicans.

SB 816 is called the Truth in Giving Act and aims to help people making donations to or purchases from a thrift know if they are supporting a charity or a for-profit business. For-profit thrift businesses would be required to display signage at the stores, pickup and drop-off sites notifying the public that they are not a charity.

Violation would be a misdemeanor carrying fines. It passed 32-1 with one Republican voting no.

SJR 6 resurrects a proposed constitutional amendment that died in the cascade amendment failure of 2002, when all four proposals went down to defeat. This one would put before the voters in November an amendment to the state Constitution to allow incorporation of churches.

Churches incorporate in order to obtain some legal protections, such as liability, and to make it easier to borrow money and purchase property. It was adopted 33-0.

The Senate also amended and sent back to the House HB 4933, which concerns Medicaid coverage for dentures. Current code sets a $1,000 annual limit for all dental services.

The House sent over a bill that keeps the $1,000 cap but specified that dentures are covered but not included in the cap. Senate Health amended the bill to remove the mention of dentures but to change the cap to $2,000 across two years.

The change, it was explained, allows Medicaid patients to get their full set – uppers and lowers – in the same calendar year while also saving the state money by avoiding increased payouts. It passed 33-0 and requires House concurrence with the changes.

The tax bill is SB 822, concerning property taxes for managed timberland set aside for carbon offsets.

It proposed to exempt from the definition of managed timberland property subject to a carbon offset agreement, “which the tax commissioner, in consultation with Division of Forestry, determines is incompatible with the managed timberland program due to substantial restrictions on commercial production and harvesting of timber.”

Parties with offset agreements would be required to register with the Tax Department.

An agreement deemed to prevent economic development or substantially restrict severance of minerals or timber would be subject to a 50% tax on the gross payment, to be paid by the company contracting the land. Agreements not falling under that umbrella would see just a 15% tax. Agreements would be limited to 20 years and then require renewal.

Finance chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, promoted the bill saying there are venture capital groups looking to buy and stop development of timberlands for the wood products industry for 40 to 99 years. “This is an attack on an energy state and also an attack on the timber industry in West Virginia, which employs a lot of people.”

Sens. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, both said the bill imposes on private property rights.

Woelfel said, “Were impairing the rights of our citizens to profit from their timberland as they see fit,” in order to fight the green agenda.

The long debate and the division led Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, to call for a halt on the debate while the Senate recessed for committee meetings. Upon their return to the floor, he announced it was moved to Rules, where it will die for failing to meet the Crossover deadline.