Mid-Ohio Valley lawmakers pleased with special session

CHARLESTON — The governor and legislative leadership claimed victory for the state in the bills passed in the special legislative session and the impact they will have on road jobs.

Local lawmakers praised what was accomplished.

Gov. Jim Justice and legislative leaders held a press conference Wednesday at the state Capitol to discuss what was accomplished over the last few days. Justice had originally called the special session following the passage of the $1.6 billion Roads to Prosperity bond issue on Oct. 7.

The agenda included bills aimed at ensuring as many West Virginians as possible are hired to work on the road projects and authorizing the state Division of Highways to streamline hiring policies to fill vacancies and to access tax records to disqualify tax-delinquent contractors.

Other bills include exempting military retirement pensions from the state’s personal income tax and increasing the tax credit for rehabilitating historic structures.

“It was a great, great, great session,” Justice said during the press conference. “We are on our way. This state is really on the move.”

This comes after a regular legislative session earlier this year where some people thought little was accomplished.

“These wins (in the special session) are for all of West Virginia,” the governor said. “We helped our veterans. We have incentivized people to come in and do great work in restoring historical buildings and (more). “(These bills) will create employment, tourism and lots of stuff.”

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said a bill was passed requiring companies participating in the roads bond to hire 75 percent of their workforce from West Virginia or 50 miles from the border of West Virginia.

“I think there will be more transparency on where the jobs will go,” Boley said.

Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said around 800,000 people in West Virginia would qualify and around 8 million within 50 miles of the West Virginia border.

“There is a great amount of workforce around us,” he said. “Employers have a vast area to get the workers they need.”

One bill increased the fine on contractors who don’t comply with the West Virginia workers requirement. It was originally $100 a day per employee. Now it is $250 a day per employee.

If the companies still cannot find the needed workers, they can get a waiver from the state to go out farther to find qualified people.

“They can file the waiver so it doesn’t hold up any projects,” Boley said.

Other bills would allow the state tax department and the transportation department to share information on contractors who were not paying their taxes which would impact whether they would be awarded jobs from the new road bonds.

Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, said one bill will allow the Department of Highways to quickly fill up around 500 vacancies it has had for a while.

“These bills will help put more West Virginians to work,” he said. “It will get the state’s tax revenue up and increase the tax base. I think we had a really productive special session.”

The bill exempting military pensions from the state’s personal income tax was a “no brainer,” Boley said. Hollen said it was “long overdue.” Criss said it corrected a fallacy from the 1980s when officials put a cap of $22,000 for it to qualify.

“We put it back,” he said of exempting the full pensions.

Justice said making that exemption could bring many veterans to the state.

“They deserve it,” he said. “If we attract more veterans to West Virginia that will mean more revenue to West Virginia in any way and every way.”

Many of these veterans will be interested in continuing to work and that experience can benefit the state, Justice said.

“The veterans who would be coming to West Virginia are trained on the most advanced equipment in the land,” Justice said. “They can give us knowledge. They can give us so much by being here.”

With Justice’s history of coaching basketball, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, presented Justice with a special basketball that had 60-1 printed on it.

“You have never had a two-week period like you just had,” Carmichael said of the 54 counties that overwhelmingly passed the road bond issue plus the six bills passed during the special session. The only “loss” was one county that did not pass the road bond issue.

“All of this will help the state of West Virginia,” Carmichael said.

Justice praised lawmakers for stepping up to the challenge.

“You are not going to win the game unless you have the players and you are not going to win the game unless you have the superstars,” Justice said. “These people need to be commended. They have done good work.”

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