By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Three bills made it out of the West Virginia Legislature’s House Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Tuesday, including a bill allowing income tax credits for rare earth element mining companies, and a bill relating to the use of e-bikes on public trails.
The first bill discussed during the meeting was House Bill (HB) 2510, the Rare Earth Element and Critical Mineral Investment Tax Credit Act of 2023, which was introduced by lead sponsor and Committee Chairman Gary G. Howell, R-Mineral.
This bill is the reintroduction of former HB 4657, which passed the House in 2022, but later stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.
The bill states that the goal of the tax credit is to encourage companies to invest in the extraction, mining, processing and manufacturing of rare earth elements and critical minerals, and provide new jobs in West Virginia.
The bill identifies 40 critical minerals, including aluminum, lithium, nickel, platinum and tin. It also identifies 17 rare earth elements including neodymium, dysprosium and europium.
To qualify for the tax credit, companies must either be new or expanding their current facility, and provide new jobs. The implementation of the tax credit would not begin until July 1, 2024.
According to counsel, “The maximum allowable credit is determined by multiplying a taxpayer’s qualified investment by a new jobs percentage. The qualified investment is a percentage of the cost of the project and is determined by the useful life of the investment.”
“The credit amount will accrue over a 10 year period and can be claimed at the rate of 1/10th per taxable year for 10 years,” counsel continued. “The credit amount is allowed against 80% of the taxpayers state tax, which is a direct result of the investment.”
Should employee salaries be high enough, then the credit amount would be allowed against 100% of the taxpayers state tax, counsel added.
There is no fiscal note yet attached to the bill this year, but last year’s fiscal note showed a first year increase of $50,000 in administrative costs for the state tax department and $10,000 per year after that.
Regarding the bill, Delegate David Elliott Pritt, D-Fayette, said, “I am very excited for the opportunities that mining and gathering rare earth elements are going to give to a lot of counties. I think this is a fantastic bill. . . . It’s going to be good for southern West Virginia.”
After a majority vote, the bill is headed to the full House floor.
The next bill discussed, HB 2753, is a similar bill to last year’s HB 4582, which received no traction. It was re-introduced this year by lead sponsor Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh.
The bill modifies e-bike (electric bicycle) laws and brings them more in-line with federal laws. It redefines e-bike classifications, permits Class 2 e-bikes to include throttles, and allows e-bikes to be used on public lands.
The Division of Natural Resources will have rulemaking and enforcement authority.
“While e-bikes have been on the books here for a while . . . the definitions that were in the state statute were slightly different from federal guidelines . . . creating an issue with people using e-bikes on trails that traverse both federal parks and state parks,” counsel said. “So, this bill is an attempt to synchronize that better so it doesn’t create those issues.”
The bill states that e-bikes are a “two or three wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of fewer than 750 watts (1.005 horsepower).”
It goes on to state that Class 1 e-bikes have a motor “that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling,” and no longer provides that assistance when it reaches 20 m.p.h. Class 2 e-bikes have a motor that is used to “propel the bicycle,” but not after reaching 20 m.p.h. Class 3 e-bikes “have a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling,” but stops when the e-bike reaches 28 m.p.h.
“The restrictions that are in the bill – you can use an e-bike anywhere that you can use a bicycle,” counsel stated, adding that the only exception is for a Class 3 e-bike, which will not be allowed on a “bicycle path, a multi-use trail or single use trail unless it is within a highway or roadway.”
However, local government authorities retain the right to allow Class 3 e-bikes on trails under their jurisdiction, counsel said.
“My concern is that people head out into the great outdoors for some peace and quiet and slower things, and I just hope we are not headed down the road of introducing forms of faster powered vehicles, bikes, whatever, that is going to disturb that,” said Delegate George Street, R-Preston.
After discussion, this bill also received a majority vote and is headed to the House Judiciary Committee.
The last bill passed, HB 2512, transfers the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer matching funds program from the Dept. of Commerce to the Dept. of Economic Development. It is similar to Senate Bill 231, which has already passed the Senate.