Early in the session, the Legislature passed a bill that puts West Virginia in a better position to be chosen for a cracker facility location. House Bill 4086 reduces personal property taxes for a company that builds an ethane cracker in West Virginia that has a minimum of $2 billion in investment.
House Bill 4351 establishes drug testing requirements, revises the process for development of ventilation plans, establishes new requirements for methane monitoring and rock dusting, and changes several safety-related miner training requirements.
There are additional enforcement procedures and increased penalties to ensure that there's more compliance with existing laws. Very importantly, the legislation triggers studies to pinpoint other improvements that can be made to our mine safety laws and enforcement practices, including what additional jobs in the mine should be required to be certified.
Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB)
Also in the first weeks, the Legislature passed a bill to retire the long-term unfunded liability of Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB), which is very important to the financial well being of both state government and the local school boards (Senate Bill 469).
Another bill permitting utility companies to seek low-interest bonds backed by the state should ensure that West Virginians’ electric rates aren't raised next year (House Bill 4530).
Jason Flatt Act (House has passed for several years)
Known as the Jason Flatt Act, Senate Bill 221 provides for the regular education of all educators and school personnel who have direct contact with students on warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention.
Legislation to enact a statewide system of evaluating teachers that focuses on all outcomes, including test scores and student growth (House Bill 4236). The legislation calls for the use of: standards to provide explicit and extensive measures of the work of teaching and measures of educator performance (80% of evaluation); two pieces of evidence at two points in time over the instructional term to demonstrate student learning as an indicator of educator performance (15% of evaluation); and school's school-wide learning growth as measured by the state summative assessment as an evaluative measure of all educators employed in the school (5% of evaluation).
House Bill 4101 authorizes teacher education programs in the state to enter into agreements with county boards to use intensively supervised and mentored "teacher-in-residence" programs approved by the state board in lieu of student teaching. The programs are for prospective teachers during their senior year who have already completed the content area courses and passed the basic skills and content area licensure tests required for certification. The teacher-in-residence may serve only in a position that has been posted and no other teacher fully certified for the position has been employed.
House Bill 4122 allows an entity affiliated with an institution of higher education in this state with a regionally accredited program for the education of professional educators to provide alternative certification programs for teachers.
Seamless School Curriculum
To facilitate and encourage collaboration between the public school system and public higher education to promote programs of study and seamless curricula, Senate Bill 436 establishes the West Virginia EDGE initiative and the Collaboration Degree Completion Program; requires the State Board to offer adult basic education programs on community and technical college campuses; and establishes a select committee to study and make recommendations on outcomes-based funding models.
On the final night of the session, legislators came to an agreement on a bill with significant measures to address the critical problem of substance abuse (Senate Bill 437) in West Virginia, providing oversight of pain and methadone clinics, perfecting a real-time drug database and limiting the distribution of products contain pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make the dangerous and illegal drug methamphetamine, and setting aside additional funding for substance abuse treatment.
To help make West Virginia's roads much safer, lawmakers adopted a bill prohibiting texting or talking on a hand-held wireless device while driving (Senate Bill 211).
Texting while driving will be a primary offense as of July 1, 2012. Driving while using a hand-held cell phone will be a secondary offense as of July 1, 2012 then become a primary offense July 1, 2013.
The penalties are $100 for a first offense; $200 for a second offense; and $300 for a third or subsequent offense.
Language was added to clarify that insurance companies cannot use a violation of this as a basis to deny coverage, and to clarify that law enforcement cannot rely on this section of statute to confiscate cell phones.
A law stipulating insurance coverage for the treatment of autism in children was clarified and strengthened (House Bill 4260).
House Bill 4062 creates a registry to track the background and competence of in-home care workers and Senate Bill 498 better addresses the release to law enforcement of records regarding reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults. Also passed is House Bill 4390, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. It is complex, but essentially the Uniform Power of Attorney Act aims to promote a person's autonomy, while preventing, detecting and redressing power of attorney abuse against older persons, protected persons or incapacitated adults.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Senate Bill 597 creates a new law requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in various public facilities, including hotels, motels, hospitals, long-term care facilities, adult or child care facilities, assisted living facilities, boarding houses, dormitories, and apartment buildings.
Three bills that were passed will help with the continued development of the new Boy Scout adventure camp, which holds great economic and tourism potential for Southern West Virginia
Senate Bill 555 would exempt a contractor working for a nonprofit youth organization from the sales and use tax on items that would otherwise be purchased directly by the organization.
House Bill 4415 authorizes the Fayette County Commission and the Raleigh County Commission to create a public corporation known as the Prince Railroad Station Authority to acquire and maintain the Prince Railroad Station, which will be the primary stop for boy scouts riding trains to attend the Bechtel Family Summit Scout Reserve.
House Bill 4299 allows leased busses to be operated by bus operators regularly employed by another county board in this state if bus operators from the owning county are unavailable.
House Bill 4257 provides that service members who, by reason of such active duty or temporary overseas residency, are absent from the county in which they reside, or have been absent from that county and returned to reside there during the 21 days immediately preceding the election, may register in person to vote up to, but not including, the day of the election. Their spouses also qualify.
Senate Resolution 15 urges the Governor to make an appropriation in the budget for the construction of a State Veterans Nursing Home to be located on the grounds of the Beckley Veterans Administration Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia.
Through House Bill 4330, the Department of Motor Vehicles can indicate on drivers licenses that the holder of the license is a honorably discharged veteran. This will allow them to offer proof of status, as some businesses give discounts to veterans, but require proof by official government verification.
House Bill 4493 declares the week during which December 7 falls to be a special memorial Pearl Harbor and Military Appreciation Week. The State Department of Education is directed to implement a program involving student activities that recognize the contributions West Virginians have made to their country through service in the United States military.
The bill also declares March 30 as a special memorial day to be known as Vietnam Veteran Recognition Day; August 7 as Purple Heart Recognition Day; and July 27 as Korean War Veteran Recognition Day.
Spouses of members of the military who are transferred will remain eligible for unemployment if they voluntarily quit their jobs to move under House Bill 4007.
Timber Severance Tax
House Bill 4087 continues a 4-year break on the timber severance tax. The revenue had previously supported the Division of Forestry, which currently has a reserve fund.
House Bill 4088 repeals the Telecommunications Tax Act, which provides for a 4 percent tax on the gross receipts of any business selling or furnishing telegraph, telephone, or other telecommunications services.
Domestic Violence Prevention
Senate Bill 191 provides for the protection of non-family or non-household members who do not otherwise qualify for protection under the domestic abuse statute.
The state Supreme Court would like to initiate a pilot program involving the interaction of family court judges and magistrates on misdemeanor domestic violence cases. House Bill 4648 authorizes the Supreme Court to utilize current judicial officers and resources to implement the pilot project.
House Bill 4015 creates within the Governor’s Office the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs to provide a forum for discussion of issues that affect the state's minorities and make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature. The bill provides for an executive director appointed by the Governor and creates the Minority Affairs Fund to be administered by the executive director.
Scrap Metal Theft
The theft of wire and scrap metal is not only physically dangerous for would-be thieves, but the theft of copper and other metals can shut down telephone lines, damage industrial plants, and shut down other businesses.
The Legislature has passed bills in the past to better prevent such theft, and this year adopted three more:
Senate Bill 528 regulates scraps metal dealers and the sale of scrap metal by establishing licensing requirements, a list of prohibited scrap items, and the offense of larceny for knowingly accepting stolen scrap.
Senate Bill 212 criminalizes disruption of emergency communication services by theft. First offense is misdemeanor punishable by 2,000 hours of community service and a fine of up to $10,000. Second offense is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. The third offense prison sentence is one to 10 years.
House Bill 4345 creates a new section relating to the sale of railroad scrap metal. Any person selling railroad scrap metal must be authorized by the company to do so. If an unauthorized person sells scrap metal then the bill makes that sale void. The bill also requires the sale to be greater than or equal to one ton, be accompanied by a bill of sale, and comply with other laws.
Beech Fork/Cacapon Improvements
The Economic Development Authority is authorized to issue $52.5 million in bonds for capital improvements for Cacapon Resort State Park and Beech Fork State Park (Senate Bill 362). The bill provides that the debt service on the bonds is payable from an additional $3 million allocation to the State Park Improvement Fund out of the State Excess Lottery Revenue Fund.
Senate Bill 408 provides for criminal penalties for the intentional defacement of public and private property as a result of graffiti.
The first offense is a misdemeanor punishable by 24 hours to 6 months confinement in jail or fined up to $1,000, or both. The second offense is a misdemeanor punishable by confinement of 48 to 6 months in jail or fined up to $2,000, or both. And the third or subsequent offenses is a felony punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 3 years or fined up to $10,000, or both. In addition, those convicted will also be sentenced to at least 120 hours of community service. For a person under 18, in addition to other penalties, the court may suspend the drivers license of the person for up to 2 years (or prohibit the person from applying for a license, if they do not have one at the time of the crime).
Improvement of Laws Regarding Abused and Neglected Children
Senate Bill 484 makes many revisions to the child abuse and neglect and juvenile proceedings section of the code suggested by the Supreme Court Improvement Program Oversight Board. Its purpose is to promote the safety, well-being and timely permanency of children in child abuse and neglect, family court and/or juvenile cases.
Among many changes, the bill requires judges to provide in the court order the reasons why a child is being placed out-of-state as opposed to in-state. It clarifies the multidisciplinary treatment planning process for everyone and establishes a process specific to child abuse and neglect cases as well as status offenders and delinquents. Attorneys appointed in child abuse and neglect cases to have eight hours of training annually, rather than three. Reasonable efforts to preserve the family are no longer be required when the person is required by law to register as a sex offender. The bill provides a process for permanency hearings and permanent placement reviews and authorizes family court to order a child be taken into emergency custody under certain circumstances.
House Bill 4107 requires the State Fire Commission to establish the training requirements for volunteer firefighters by emergency and legislative rule by July 30, 2012. The rules must include:(1) training be given in segments; (2) training be given online; (3) testing be done in person at regional locations or online; and (4) minimum training levels, equipment standards, performance standards and water flow.
Fire, EMS and Law-Enforcement Officer Survivor Benefit
The Legislature provides that the surviving spouse, designated beneficiary, minor children or parents of a law-enforcement provider who is killed in the performance of his or her duties will be paid $50,000 from the General Revenue Fund. Prior to House Bill 4396, only firefighters and EMS providers were eligible for the survivor benefit.
Exotic Animals (Vetoed by Governor)
Senate Bill 477 directs the DNR to establish by legislative rule, regulations for the ownership of exotic animals, defined as those animals that, due to their inherent nature, may be considered dangerous to humans, other animals or the environment and are not deemed indigenous wild animals. This allows for the DNR to add or delete dangerous exotic animals by rule to provide flexibility and accountability for listing of animals as exotic animals. The legislative rule must be approved by the Legislature, and will exclude non-native animals that are kept as pets that do not meet the definition of exotic pets. All wild animals indigenous to this state are owned by the state, with limited permitting of ownership is allowed under existing regulation by the DNR.
Felony to Disarm a Correctional Officer
Current code provides that it is a felony to intentionally disarm or attempt to disarm a law enforcement officer, probation officer or parole officer acting in his or her official capacity. Senate Bill 166 adds correctional officers to the list. The bill was recommended by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Regional Jails and Correctional Facility Authority.
Strengthening the Municipal Pensions Oversight Board
House Bill 4489 clarifies and strengthens the authority of the West Virginia Municipal Pensions Oversight Board, including clarifying that the Oversight Board may investigate the actions or practices of municipal boards of trustees or their administrators or employees that may threaten the security or fiscal integrity of the pension funds. The Oversight Board can also initiate or intervene in legal actions to challenge or prevent any action or practice which has the potential to threaten the security or fiscal integrity of the pension funds.
Help for Municipal Pension Debt
Senate Bill 634 authorizes municipalities participating in the standard, optional or conversion method of financing their police or firemen pension plans to pass an ordinance for a public safety assessment fee with revenues dedicated to reducing any unfunded actuarial liability. The assessment would be based on square footage of structures, not to exceed an annual assessment of two cents per square foot.
The intent of House Bill 4605 is to encourage persons applying for a marriage license to attend a premarital education course by adding $20 to the current marriage license fee for persons who do not attend such a course.
Buy American Act
As amended by the Senate, House Bill 4263 requires the Purchasing Division and the Division of Labor to jointly convene a task force to study the use of American made construction materials and manufactured goods in the various aspects of the construction and maintenance of public buildings and public works projects of the state and its political subdivisions which are funded in part by state grants, state loans or state appropriations. The task force's recommendations are to be reported to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance by December 21, 2012.
House Bill 4438 provides for the licensing of Provider Sponsored Networks by the Insurance Commissioner and authorizes the Secretary of DHHR to contract with such entities to arrange for the provision of medical services to Medicaid beneficiaries.
The Legislation authorizes the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources to directly contract with provider sponsored networks. By reducing the administrative burdens and the expense of compliance with Medicaid program requirements and by allowing provider sponsored networks to provide administrative and care management, the goal is to encourage privately practicing physicians and other providers to participate.
This promotes shared use of patient-centered medical home resources among mission based and privately practicing health care providers. It also creates opportunities for the state to constrain the rise in the cost of health care provided to Medicaid enrollees, share in the savings, and to enhance access to care for Medicaid enrollees.
Liquor/Beer Sampling Event
House Bill 3174 authorizes Class A retail liquor licenses to conduct liquor or beer sampling events, if approved by the ABCC Commissioner.
One 1 oz sample may be given to each customer who is 21 years of age or older. The server must also be 21 years old and an employee of the licensee. Each person receiving a sample must be carded. The event must end by 9:00 pm.
The bill also provides for beer sampling events, with identical requirements provided for liquor sampling, with the exception that the sample may be 3 2-ounce samples of beer as opposed to the 1 ounce sample of liquor.
Apprentice Hunting and Trapping Licenses
Senate Bill 478 provides a process to allow new hunters to purchase apprentice hunting and trapping licenses without first completing the hunter training requirements, as otherwise required, and would permit hunting under supervision of a valid license holder or a landowner over the age of 18.
Possession of Child Erotica
The State Police occasionally find persons who have child erotica, but do not have child pornography and, therefore, the people could not be prosecuted under state law. Furthermore, federal child pornography laws have already been interpreted to cover child erotica, but the local federal prosecutors have not been willing to prosecute persons with small quantities of child erotica.
Senate Bill 596 creates a misdemeanor offense for producing, displaying, possessing or distributing images of children that are not pornographic but are defined as erotica – images that show children who are partially clothed and are unlawful if they are not for legal commercial use and they are produced, displayed, possessed or distributed for the specific purpose of sexual gratification or sexual arousal from viewing the child erotica. The penalties for violating this section would be up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, or both.
Insurance Disclosure Prior to a Lawsuit
House Bill 4486, applies only to motor vehicle insurance. In those cases, a claimant attorney can request in writing of each liability insurer who may pay all or a portion of a claim which might be brought against a motor vehicle liability policy the following information related to each known policy of insurance (including excess or umbrella):
(1) The name of the insurer;
(2) The name of each named insured of the subject policy; and
(3) The limits of any motor vehicle liability insurance policy at the time of the event that are the subject of the claim; or
(4) the declarations page of any motor vehicle liability policy applicable at the time of the events that are the subject of the claim, appropriately redacted to comply with applicable privacy laws or regulations.
The information must be provided within 30 days.
Denying Alimony Based on Adultery
Senate bill 51 provides that if, after the final order of divorce, DNA evidence shows that a child born during the marriage is not the child of the husband, or that a child born to a woman other than the wife because of the adultery of the husband, the court may deny the spousal support previously awarded to the adulterous spouse.
Increasing Penalty for Sale/Purchase of a Child
The location of the section of state code where the crime of the sale or purchase of a child was changed by House Bill 4130 but much more importantly, the bill increases the penalty for a felony conviction, raising it from 1-5 years with one year jail alternative to 1-10 years with a jail alternative.
Human trafficking is a form of slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Under federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of "labor or services," such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. In these cases, force, fraud, or coercion are used to control people to engage in labor or services including commercial sex acts. It is estimated that human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits each year by victimizing millions of people around the world, including the United States. Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.
House Bill 4053 specifically addresses the crime of human trafficking by providing for the investigation, prosecution and punishment of human traffickers, and also requires the state Department of Health and Human Resources to develop a plan for the delivery of services to the victims of human traffickers.
Reporting Child Abuse
Any adult who receives a disclosure from a credible witness or observes any sexual abuse or sexual assault of a child, must immediately, and not more than forty-eight hours after receiving such a disclosure or observing the sexual abuse or sexual assault, report the circumstances or cause a report to be made to the Department of Health and Human Resources or law enforcement (Senate Bill 498).
In the event that the individual receiving the disclosure or observing the sexual abuse or sexual assault has a good faith belief that the reporting of the event to the police would expose either the reporter, the subject child, the reporter's children or other children in the subject child's household to an increased threat of serious bodily injury, the individual may delay making the report while he or she undertakes measures to remove themselves or the affected children from the perceived threat of additional harm: Provided, That the individual makes the report as soon as practicable after the threat of harm has been reduced. The penalties for these violations are in line with the other mandatory reporters (jail time to 30 days and increasing a possible fine up to $10,000).
Senate Bill 76 creates the Green Buildings Act, requiring all new building construction projects of public agencies and any building construction project receiving state grant funds and appropriations that have not gone into schematic planning by July 1, 2012, to be designed and constructed in accord with the ICC International Energy Conservation Code adopted by the State Fire Commission and the American National Standards Institute, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.
Homeowner associations will no longer be permitted to ban solar energy systems. House bill 2740 does, however, allow reasonable restrictions on solar units so long as the restrictions do not make them too costly or eliminate the system's energy conservation benefits. It also allows members of a housing development or association to vote to restrict or remove restrictions that prohibit or restrict the installation or use of a solar energy system.
Child Support Collection
House Bill 4523 requires an employer contracting services with an independent contractor to report the income to the Bureau for Child Support Enforcement if the payment for services is $2500 or more. The bill provides a definition of "independent contractor".
Victim Notification – Persons living with Victim
The purpose of Senate Bill 331 is to allow persons who have lived with a victim for at least one year prior to the crime to:
1)be afforded notice of trial and hearing dates;
2)speak at sentencing and
3)be notified of parole hearings and parole release dates.
Minor Access to Mental Health
Relating to legal rights of mentally ill, specifically, inability of children to refuse commitment, Senate Bill 507 raises the age a parent can voluntarily commit a minor from 12 under 18. (The bill also revamps petition for reinstatement of firearms rights for persons previously involuntarily committed to meet federal requirements.)
Expanding Authority of a Family Court Judge
In civil contempt cases, a family court judge can now order, as an alternative to incarceration, the placement of a respondent in a work release program, a weekend jail program, a community service program, a day-reporting center program, in any other community corrections program or on home confinement until the person has purged himself or herself of the contempt (House Bill 4522)
For more information, go to the WV Legislative Website.