By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
February 23, 2023
The 2023 regular legislative session is 3/4 complete. So far, it has been, “All hat, no cattle.” Lots of talk with little substance.
The final few weeks will be busy, as a very small number of bills have completed the process at this point. Here are several noteworthy bills which remain alive.
HJR 17. Remember Amendment 4? That allowed the legislature to take control of all educational policies in the state? The one that was soundly rejected by the voters at the polls? Well, it’s back. House Republicans passed it out of the Education Committee. Whether it progresses will be up to House leadership, and I’m told they don’t like it.
‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.’ HB3042 purports to be the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act.’ It was so controversial several years ago that Senator Mitch Carmichael worked to defeat the bill in the Republican-controlled Senate. It allows people and businesses to treat people differently if they act in opposition to their religious beliefs. Business groups like the Chamber of Commerce adamantly oppose the bill as some 98% of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies and will not do business in places where discrimination is allowed. This bill pits the pro-business conservatives versus the social conservatives. It will be illuminating to see who prevails.
CAMPUS CARRY. Campus carry passed the House overwhelmingly, as expected. It already passed the Senate by a large margin. It now heads to the governor’s desk to become law. I did find it very interesting that Speaker Roger Hanshaw voted against the bill. He has done this on a few occasions–voting against a piece of “red meat” legislation his own caucus vehemently supports.
PAY RAISE. SB423 provides a $2,300 raise to all public employees. It was an average 5% raise, but they changed it to a specific dollar amount in hopes of impacting starting salaries and recruiting people into vacant jobs. Public employees, while grateful for the raise, remain worried it will be swallowed by a rise in PEIA premiums.
PEIA. Speaking of PEIA premium increases, SB268 passed the Finance Committee yesterday with no comments, questions, or debate. It’s a 56-page bill that affects almost 300,000 West Virginians. It seems to reduce coverage and change coverage for spouses of state employees. Analysts estimate it could raise rates anywhere from 14%-26%, but without any questions or debate, it remains unclear. Stay tuned.
INSULIN CAP. After years of pushing for a cap on insulin in West Virginia, the Senate passed a bill which caps the price at $35 for a 30-day supply. However, it does not cover PEIA, Medicare, or Medicaid patients, rendering it significantly less helpful.
JAIL BILL. SB596 changes how counties pay jail bills. Each county would get a certain number of beds based on their population. If a county goes over their allotment, they pay. Big time. County commissioners could even be held personally liable for costs. It’s a great example of good policy taken too far. We desperately need jail reform. Overcrowding, understaffing, and confusing funding combine for an untenable and unsafe situation. But this bill just simply puts all the burden on the counties and county commissioners. It’s partially payback for their opposition to Amendment 2. Governing by retribution is a slippery slope that will cause us all harm.
TOURISM FEE. SB429 allows counties to impose a fee on tourism activities. Which is just about the worst way to encourage tourism and economic development. Tucker County wants it–and probably does need it due to local funding issues. But enacting a bill allowing a new tax statewide is a bad way to go about helping one county in my opinion.
FLOOD MITIGATION. Senator Chandler Swope is co-chair of the Flood Committee and sponsored SB677 to update the flood planning process, including the duties and resources available to the state resiliency office. It’s a very good bill, and I thank Senator Swope for continuing to lead on this issue. If it passes, our state flood protection plan will be reviewed regularly and our mitigation efforts will be properly funded. This is a giant step forward in flood response.
TAX CUT. I hear the Hoise and Senate are very close to a deal on a tax cut. To be clear, a deal between leadership is imminent. Whether the membership will go along with the deal remains to be seen.
Stay tuned to The Real WV for the latest. We will do our best to provide you real news via the articles and real insight via the editorials. Expect a lot of horse-trading under the dome in the final weeks.
That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.