The 2018 legislative session is a beehive of activity as lawmakers race towards a March 10 closing. Wednesday, February 28 is called “crossover day”. This is the day that all bills need to be voted on and passed by the House of origin or they are deemed dead for the session. Consequently, each House’s legislative committees are trying to pass any relevant legislation before the crossover deadline.
Budget & Taxes
Work continues on a comprehensive budget document for fiscal year 2018-19. Unlike last year, this year’s budget should reflect no new tax increases necessary to balance the state’s spending. Increases revenue collections are ample enough to maintain existing state obligations and services.
State teachers and school service personnel are currently in the midst of a work stoppage that began last Thursday and Friday and is expected to continue through early this week.
Teachers and school service personnel have initiated this walkout over pay and PEIA insurance issues. The Legislature has already passed a bill that will give these professionals a 2% raise this year and a promise of an additional 1% in each of the following two budget years. This level of raise has not seemed to satisfy the majority of those affected. Most are asking for a raise in the 3% to 5% range. A showdown could be looming. Public employees in WV do not possess the right to strike. Any prolonged walkout would probably invite judicial filings and possible court injunctions. Stay tuned to this unfolding drama.
Contractor Related Issues
HB 4317 - Contractor Licensing Board Legislation. This bill seeks to establish the make up, terms and regulatory duties of the existing Board. Moreover, under this proposal, the Board would b moved from the Division of Labor section of code to the Professional Service statutes. The bill is sitting in House Judiciary Committee awaiting a markup.
SB 284 - The Governor’s bill establishing a system of subsidized tuition at technical schools and community colleges. The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Education and then Finance Committees.
SB 335 - Legislation that would require an annual voluntary registration for the withholding of agency shop fees that might me be used for political activity. The bill has passed the Senate and sits in the House Judiciary Committee awaiting additional consideration.
SB 458 - This bill would prohibit any political subdivision from adopting or enforcing any ordinance, regulation, policy or resolution that would pay a wage higher than any state or federal law. The bill would also would also prevent any city or county from forcing a contractor to pay for fringe benefits not presently offered by employment. The legislation would prevent cities and counties from requiring some verified work experience as well as employee information except for criminal records. The Municipal League and County Officials are opposed to the bill.
SB 474 - Legislation that would that certain documents and files filed pursuant to the WV Jobs Act be deemed confidential. This confidentiality extends to wages and employee data. Democrats argued strongly that this bill suppresses transparency in government spending and purchases. Republicans argued that this confidentiality requirement protects vital information from being used for unsavory purposes. The bill Passed out of the Senate and has been referred to House Labor and Judiciary Committees for further review and possible markup.
SB 506 - Attempts to change the standards and licensing requirements for HVAC technicians based on the licensees experience on residential systems versus large industrial HVAC installation and maintenance. The legislation is on second reading (amendment stage) in the Senate. It still requires House consideration and passage.
Other Business Related Issues
HB 4013 - An important tort reform initiative. This proposal states that a non resident could not file a cause of action in WV unless a substantial part of the tortious acts or omissions have occurred here. The legislation is intended to weaken the plaintiff bar’s ability to file suits in state venues with a history of business bashing.
SB 341 - Legislation creating an Intermediate Court of Appeals. The bill would create two districts of three mobile judge panels that would hear appeals on civil, family law and administrative law cases. Losing appellants could still file appeals with the WV Supreme Court. WV is one of a handful of states that haven’t created an Intermediate appeal body. The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to House Judiciary for further deliberation.
HB 4268 - Cotenancy Legislation has been passed by the House and should be placed on the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda this weak. Cotenancy allows for oil and gas mineral development to proceed once 75% of drilling units have been secured by lease. The Cotenancy bill requires drillers to pay the highest royalty rate as compensation for being absorbed into the unit. Barring unexpected development, the bill is expected to pass out of Committee and be voted on by the full Senate early next week.
House Joint Resolution #6, commonly referred to as the effort to reduce the property tax assessment on business inventory and equipment, seems to be in jeopardy. Governor Justice and legislative leaders had urged lawmakers to pass the resolution which would have called for voters to approve, by statewide referendum, a seven year phase out of the tax at a cost of $20 million per year for seven years. It seems that the additional costs being allocated to teacher pay as well health insurance stability are too much to be sustained in this year’s spending plan.