Lawmakers wrestle budget bill across finish line, pass flurry of bills to close out 2024 legislative session

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Lawmakers closed out the 2023 Legislative Session in typical fashion on Saturday – by passing a flurry of bills on both sides of the building. However, some bills were passed more smoothly than others. 

On the House of Delegates’ side, while members did engage in oftentimes aggressive debate, several Senate bills were passed with little or no discussion. Those bills include:

  • SB 837: Reorganizing offices of Public Defender Corporations to conform to circuit reconfiguration. The bill passed 96 – 0.
  • SB 850: Updating consumer credit and protection act. The bill passed 87 – 11.
  • SB 858: Clarifying filing requirements and deadlines in property tax cases. The bill passed 97 – 0.
  • SB 864: Clarifying reporting requirements of Grant Transparency and Accountability Act. The bill passed 98 – 0.
  • SB 872: Relating to county fire service fees. The bill passed 96 – one, with Del. Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, voting against passage.
  • SB 873: Schedule for tax installment payments. The bill passed 98 – 0.
  • SB 875: Relating to certain insurance coverage provided by BRIM. The bill passed 93 – five.

Not included in the list of bills smoothly passed was SB 841, a bill to modify the amount of unemployment taxes and benefits. Consideration of the contentious legislation included stall tactics and rule-suspensions, while an approved amendment restricted unemployment benefit-eligibility even further than the introduced bill. 

While the bill was ultimately passed by a vote of 66 to 31, its detractors required SB 841 to be read in its entirety, resulting in a delay of nearly an hour. Once debate began on the bill proper, a technical flaw was identified in the actuarial tables used to determine benefits for unemployed persons with a recent salary of more than $41,500. That debate went on for well over another hour before a vote was finally held. 

SB 280, a bill “allowing teachers in public schools to discuss scientific theories” – a bill which the Legislature failed to pass during the 2023 session – was next considered. As expected, the bill generated substantial debate amongst House members, as well.

Ultimately the House passed SB 280 by a vote of 89 to nine, with all but two Democratic members voting against passage. Delegates Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, both voted in favor of the bill. 

Across the rotunda, members of the Senate had a similar day. Bills passed with ease include:

  • HB 5668: Creating the Responsible Gaming and Research Act. The bill passed 25 – seven.
  • HB 5694: Relating to the Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act. The bill passed 32 – 0.
  • HB 4793: The “moonshine bill.” The bill passed 18 – 14.
  • HB 4880: Creating social security exemptions impersonal income tax. The bill passed 32 – 0.
  • HB 4883: Increasing annual salaries of certain state employees. The bill passed 32 – 0.
  • HB 5262: Creating a “teachers bill of rights.” The bill passed 32 – 0.
  • HB 4956: Creating the Oral Health and Cancer Rights act. The bill passed 32 – 0.
  • HB 5162: Creating a program to promote and expand registered apprenticeship initiatives. The bill passed 32 – 0.

And again, much as with the House, the Senate Chamber was not free from significant disagreement, particularly with regard to HB 5105, a bill designed to weaken childhood vaccination requirements. While the Senate Health Committee recommended passage of the bill, Committee Chair Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, did not.

Ultimately, HB 5105 passed the Senate by a vote of 20 to 12. 

Shortly after 11:30 p.m., the House reluctantly accepted the Senate’s compromise regarding SB 200, otherwise known as the “State Budget Bill,” thus preventing the session from being extended by one day. The Senate pushed for a scaled-back budget as the result of the potential $465 million federal clawback the state is currently facing. Assuming it will be approved by Gov. Jim Justice, the new budget will go into effect on July 1 of this year.

House Joint Resolution (HJR) 28 was a contentious topic on both sides of the building on Saturday. The resolution, which creates a ballot initiative to amend West Virginia’s constitution permanently outlawing the already illegal practice of medically-assisted suicide within the state, was amended to exempt the death penalty from the permanent ban. 

Democrats in both chambers disagreed with the adding of “pro-death language to a pro-life bill.” However, the resolution was passed by both bodies, and will appear on the general election ballot in November. 

Additional bill passed on Saturday include:

  • HB 5294: Revising state law regarding farm wineries.
  • SB 614: Establishing elementary behavior and intervention requirements.
  • HB 5084: Requiring retailers to verify buyers are 21-years-of-age when purchasing tobacco and vaping products.
  • HB 4399: Creating the equitable right to criminal record expungement.
  • HB 5223: Creating the southern coalfields resiliency and revitalization program.
  • SB 631: Prohibiting municipalities from disconnecting water service for nonpayment of stormwater fees.
  • HB 5338: Relating to safe harbor for cyber security programs.
  • HB 5668: Creating the Responsible Gaming and Research Act.
  • SB 679: Regulating certain plant-based derivatives, hemp-derived cannabinoid products, and Kratom.

HJR 21 had the honor of being the final point debated in the House, however the clock ran out on the proposal to amend the state constitution to permanently ban non-citizens from voting in West Virginia’s elections.

Notably, two bills which generated considerable controversy upon their introduction – HB 5243 and SB 601, the House and Senate versions of “The Women’s Bill of Rights” – both failed to cross the finish line. 

The legislature is scheduled to hold their second interim session of 2024 on April 14, 15, and 16. Gov. Jim Justice is also expected to call lawmakers into Special Session to further consider the state budget in May. RealWV will provide updates regarding the potential for Special Session as additional information is made available. 

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