This past Wednesday, March 27, marked the constitutional deadline for West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to sign or veto any remaining legislation that had not been acted on since the Legislature adjourned Sine Die on March 9, 2019.
Pursuant to Article 7, Section 14 of the West Virginia Constitution:
Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor within five days, Sundays excepted, after it shall have been presented to him shall be a law, in the same manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature shall, by adjournment sine die, prevent its return, in which case it shall be filed with his objections in the office of the secretary of state within fifteen days, Sundays excepted, after such adjournment, or become a law.
With the stroke of a pen, Governor Justice signed into law many key legislative measures that received significant attention during this past session. Notable legislation that will go into effect includes, but is not limited to:
- SB 1 – Increasing Access to Career Education & Workforce Training: Often referred to as the “free community college bill,” SB 1 establishes the WV Invests grant program – a last-dollar-in program that would help facilitate in-state students’ attendance at state community and technical colleges by paying the remaining tuition balance for qualifying individuals receiving available scholarship and grant money.
- HB 2010 – Relating to Foster Care: With the signature of HB 2010, West Virginia will begin the process of transferring its foster care program within the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to a managed care model, in which the state contracts with a private managed care organization to provide foster care services on a fixed monthly fee basis rather than a traditional fee-for-service payment model.
- SB 4 – Municipal Home Rule Program: Originally set to expire on July 1, 2019, the Municipal Home Rule Program is now a permanent program that will continue into the future. The legislation allows up to four new municipalities to join the program each year and provides a stream of revenue for the continued operation of the Home Rule Board.
- Updated Beer, Wine & Liquor Laws: A number of changes were made to state laws governing the sales of non-intoxicating beer, wine and liquor. Perhaps most notably, HB 2481 allows for Sunday retail liquor sales after 1pm, except on Easter and Christmas. SB 561, SB 511, and SB 529 also streamline many of the state’s alcoholic beverage laws and help facilitate sales within West Virginia’s wine and craft beer industries.
- SB 622 – Relating to the Regulation & Control of Financing Elections: SB 622 provides significant updates to state campaign finance laws, including, but not limited to, raising the state’s contribution limits to more closely track existing federal limits, clarifying the definitions of political action committees, closing loopholes for federal independent expenditure groups, and requiring the disclosure of campaign spending on ballot initiatives.
- HB 2538 – Providing Banking Services for Medical Cannabis: One of two pieces of legislation lawmakers passed in an attempt at moving the state’s stalled medical cannabis program forward, HB 2538 seeks to alleviate the banking issues associated with the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act by allowing the State Treasurer to bid out for banking services to handle the fees, penalties and taxes associated with the Act.
- HB 3142 – Reducing Severance Tax on Thermal/Steam Coal: Provides for a 2% overall reduction on the severance tax on thermal or steam coal over a three-year period.
The Governor also vetoed more than two dozen pieces of legislation, including vetoes of the following high-profile bills:
- HB 2079 – Removing Certain Limitations on Medical Cannabis Grower, Processor and Dispensary Licenses: Governor Justice’s veto of HB 2079 prompted criticism, as the legislation sought to address numerous problems raised with the Medical Cannabis Act. The legislation would have allowed for so-called “vertical integration” amongst permit holders, as well as the issuance of up to 100 medical cannabis dispensary permits. With the veto of HB 2079, many have raised questions as to the immediate future of the state’s medical cannabis program.
- SB 487 – Relating to Admissibility of Health Care Staffing Requirements in Litigation: With the veto of SB 487, Governor Justice nullifies one of the most notable civil justice reform measures passed during the 2019 Legislative Session. SB 487 would have tightened provisions of the state’s Medical Professional Liability Act and deterred personal injury lawsuits alleging insufficient staffing where a health care provider was clearly staffed in excess of state law requirements.
- SB 522 – Creating Special Road Repair Fund: Colloquially dubbed “Randy’s Dream” after Preston County Senator Randy Smith, SB 522 would have established a special road repair fund for maintenance of West Virginia’s secondary roads. The Legislation authorized the Division of Highways to put up to $80 million into the fund for secondary road repairs, and would have also required the state Auditor to provide information regarding state road spending on the wvcheckbook.gov transparency website.
- HB 2673 – Creating the Oil & Gas Abandoned Well Plugging Fund: Governor Justice also vetoed legislation that sought to address West Virginia’s abandoned oil and gas wells through the creation of a special plugging fund. The legislation provided funding for the plugging of abandoned wells by modifying the imposition of severance taxes on marginally producing oil and gas wells. Once sufficiently funded, any such severance taxes would have been removed entirely in an effort to incentivize further development of marginally producing wells.
With legislative action for the 2019 Legislative Session now officially complete, attention will no doubt turn to the special legislative session dedicated to “educational betterment,” which will resume at the agreed upon call of Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw.