Countdown to midnight: Legislation awaits governor signature or veto

Gov. Jim Justice signs Senate Bill 267, requiring the state Board of Education to adopt policies on computer science instruction, at Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary School Feb. 28 in Beckley. (Photo Courtesy/WV Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice has until midnight tonight to sign or veto bills passed by the West Virginia Legislature, otherwise those bills become law automatically.

The 2019 legislative session started Jan. 9 and ended March 9. During the 60-day session, the legislature passed 294 bills. By Tuesday afternoon, Justice had signed 212 bills and vetoed three bills.

Bills signed into law include:

∫ Senate Bill 1, which creates a last-dollar-in community and technical college program. The new Advanced Career Education program and West Virginia Invests Grant Program created in SB 1 will give high school students and adult learners a chance to earn a certificate or two-year degree at one of the state’s nine community and technical colleges or at a two-year program available at six colleges and universities in the state.

∫ Senate Bill 4, which makes the state Home Rule program for cities permanent. It would also open up greater participation in the Home Rule program to a limited number of cities and towns with fewer than 2,000 residents.

∫ House Bill 2010 reforms the state’s foster care system, creating an ombudsman position to investigate foster care complaints, requiring assessments of homes annually, provides parental rights, and allows the state Department of Health and Human Resources to contract with a managed care organization to oversee health care and social services for foster children.

∫ And House Bill 2538, which allows credit unions, savings and loan associations, and other banking institutions to bid to provide financial services to the office of the state treasurer for the new medical cannabis program. Fees, penalties and taxes derived from the program will be deposited into a separate account.

“I always have, and I always will fully support medical cannabis for our people who are in so much pain that their physicians deem it absolutely necessary,” Justice said in a statement Tuesday. “We have a lot of people and families out there who are truly hurting and if medical cannabis can help, we need to do everything we can to make life better for those West Virginians.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were still 79 bills awaiting action by the governor. According to the West Virginia Constitution, the governor has 15 days — excluding Sundays and not including the budget or appropriations legislation — to act on bills. If the bills are not signed or vetoed by midnight tonight, the bills will become law without his signature.

Bills awaiting action by the governor include:

∫ Senate Bill 3, which would tax communications tower construction at salvage value for expansion of wireless and broadband internet, require electric companies to study the use of their power poles for broadband expansion, and give internet companies the ability to use state rights of way for expanding next-generation broadband and wireless internet technologies.

∫ Senate Bill 522, which would allow the Division of Highways to use pay-as-you-go monies collected from increased tax revenue and DMV fees for secondary road maintenance in counties. The bill also allows DOH to contract with private companies to complete core maintenance if the county or district doesn’t reach the 70 percent benchmark for core maintenance, such as mowing, ditching and filling potholes.

∫ Senate Bill 622, which makes changes to the state’s campaign finance laws. It raises the donation cap for candidates from $1,000 to $2,800 to match federal limits. It does the same for political parties, raising the cap from $1,000 to $10,000 and political action committee donations from $1,000 to $5,000. It also requires federal PACs to file in West Virginia, requires electronic reporting, and PACs to report electioneering expenditures, such as ad buys, within 24 hours.

A number of tax cut bills are pending. House Bill 2001 would spread out a Social Security income tax exemption over the next three fiscal years. By fiscal year 2022, the remaining 22 percent of Social Security beneficiaries would be exempt from having their income taxed, saving senior taxpayers $50 million.

HB 3142 would reduce the tax rate for steam coal severance from 5 percent to 3 percent by fiscal year 2022, reducing tax revenues by $60 million at the end of the three years. House Bill 2673 would eliminate severance taxes for low-producing oil and natural gas wells, with those funds going toward plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells. And House Bill 2829 would eliminate severance taxes for sandstone and limestone.