State lawmakers discuss start of special session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Local state lawmakers weighed in on the start of a special legislative session that got under way Monday in Charleston.

Legislators will be working on seven different bills during the session called by Gov. Jim Justice following the passage of the $1.6 billion Roads to Prosperity bond issue on Oct. 7.

The agenda includes seven pieces of legislation, among them bills aimed at ensuring as many West Virginians as possible are hired to work on the road and 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 from the state’s personal income tax and increasing the tax credit for rehabilitating historic structures.

State Sen. Mike Azinger, R-3rd of Wood County, said the session is only scheduled to last through today, but he expects it to go until at least Wednesday.

“There’s several bills we haven’t even gotten yet,” he said.

Delegate John Kelly, R-10th of Wood County, said he’s anticipating it lasting no longer than Thursday, adding he doesn’t want the state to have to pay for a session lasting any longer than that.

Azinger said Monday afternoon that the state Senate had already unanimously passed the bill allowing the Division of Highways to access additional tax information about out-of-state contractors. Kelly expected the bill on exempting military retirements from income tax to be taken up by the House Monday evening.

“I think that one right there has probably got the least pushback,” he said.

Azinger said passage of the bill would cost West Virginia approximately $4 million but would make up for that by making the state more attractive to military retirees.

“It’s a no-brainer to me. I love that bill,” he said.

Kelly anticipates the most debate will surround an amendment to the West Virginia Jobs Act, which requires any contractor working on a state-funded project of at least $500,000 must hire 75 percent of its employees from the local labor market. The law currently extends that market beyond the Mountain State’s borders by 75 miles, and some lawmakers want to reduce that distance.

“We realize that there probably are going to be more jobs than we have people to take, or people qualified to take,” Kelly said. “We still want to make sure that as many of these jobs that are coming out of the roads (bond) as we can make happen (go to) West Virginians.”

After a Republican caucus meeting Monday afternoon, Kelly said he believes there’s sufficient support among the GOP to cut the local labor market distance to within 50 miles of the state’s borders.

Under the Jobs Act, companies who don’t meet the requirement face a fine of $100 a day. Because there have been companies that just paid the fine and continued on, Delegate Bill Anderson, R-8th of Wood County, said, some in the Legislature want to up the penalty, including allowing the issuance of cease-and-desist orders, making violations felonies and more.

Anderson said he was opposed to criminalizing the process in such a way to punish businesses in the state but he wants West Virginia workers to get priority.

“West Virginians want to see West Virginians building West Virginia’s highways,” he said. “We need to do something to get the job done.”

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