By Matt Young, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Committee on Economic Development, on Wednesday, discussed proposed legislation designed to enhance the business relationship between the country of Ireland and the State of West Virginia.
Sponsored by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, HB 3307 states, “Over 15 percent of West Virginia’s population is of Irish descent, which, according to the Irish diplomat Barbara Jones, represents a higher figure than that in Boston or New York City.”
As explained by Senate Counsel Jay Lazell, the bill seeks to establish the “West Virginia-Ireland Trade Commission,” for the purposes of advancing, “bi-lateral trade, to advance joint action on policy issues of mutual interest, promote business and academic exchanges, encourage mutual economic support, encourage mutual investment in infrastructure, and to address other issues as determined by the commission.”
If established, the West Virginia-Ireland Trade Commission will consist of nine total members, including two members of the House of Delegates, and two members from the State Senate. The remaining five members will be appointed by the governor, and serve a term of four years.
“The bill requires the commission to report findings, results, and recommendations to the governor and the legislature,” Lazell added.
With no further discussion, HB 3307 was adopted by the committee, and will now be reported to the full Senate.
Lazell next provided a brief overview of HB 3428, which relates to the West Virginia Business Ready Sites program. Lazell began by first explaining a proposed amendment to the bill.
“This amends a section in the code governing the powers and duties of the Public Service Commission (PSC), relating to the development of industrial sites in the state,” Lazell stated. “The bill makes the Business Ready Sites program permanent. It is a program which promotes economic development in the state by facilitating construction of utility infrastructure to make sites in the state attractive for industrial development.”
According to Lazell, under the terms of HB 3428, the Business Ready Sites program would no longer be considered a “pilot program,” The amended bill would also remove the PSC’s ability to limit or restrict the number of sites involved in the program.
Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, then asked Lazell if the program is open to both publicly owned and privately owned entities. While counsel felt it is open to both, he was not fully confident in that answer.
“This is a critical area in most counties,” Plymale said. “I think that we’ve got to make it as open as possible to try and promote economic development, and the lack of certified sites is our number one issue in attracting economic development to the state.”
“What I’m saying is, I’d really like to make sure that we have it open enough that we allow even the private sector to be involved in this,” Plymale added. “I don’t think that you’re going to get the kind of industrial development that we’re seeking unless we look at this from a broader perspective. Maybe this is something we can work on as the bill moves forward.”
Plymale proposed an additional amendment to include the term “private incorporated entity” into the definition of “industrial development.” Plymale’s amendment was approved by the committee prior to the adoption of the full bill. HB 3428 will now be reported to the full Senate.
Next before the committee was it’s substitute for SB 677, which seeks to clarify the “role and responsibilities of the State Resiliency Officer (SRO).”
As explained by Lazell, “[SB 677] requires, among other things, for the State Resiliency Officer to have at least five-years managerial or strategic planning experience in disaster resiliency, or in the alternative, experience in emergency management community and economic development, regional planning, economics, or a related public policy field.”
Lazell added that the bill further requires the SRO to hire a deputy with a minimum of three-years of experience comparable to what is required of the SRO.
“The [SRO] serves as the governor’s primary representative in these matters, and acts on behalf of the governor,” Lazell noted.
In response to a question from Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, Lazell stated that the committee’s substitute for SB 677 clarifies that, while not mandatory, discretion over the state’s Disaster Recovery Trust fund may be granted to the SRO.
Danielle Waltz, attorney with Jackson Kelly PLLC and representing Pew Charitable Trusts, then spoke in favor of the bill, saying, “We support this legislation. We’ve been working with the State Resiliency Officer on it, and also several legislators.”
The committee’s substitute for SB 677 was adopted, and will now be referred to the Senate’s Committee on Finance.
As a final piece of business, Committee Chair Sen. Glenn Jeffries, R-Putnam, announced the creation of a sub-committee, saying, “The senator from Mercer (Swope) has been instrumental in working with stakeholders as far as dilapidated properties. I believe that that is a key economic development tool for the State of West Virginia.”
Swope was appointed as chair of the newly-formed Economic Development Sub-committee. Senators Plymale; Patrick Martin, R-Lewis; and Ben Queen, R-Harrison, were also appointed to serve on the sub-committee.