By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Seven bills advanced out of the legislature’s Senate Government Organization Committee on Thursday, including one discussing possible locality pay for correctional officers, one that amends the sales prices for publicly auctioned lands, and one relating to raising the surcharge on fire and casualty insurance policies.
First discussed was the committee substitute for Senate Bill 464, which aims to increase pay for West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officers working at facilities with a 40% or greater employee vacancy rate, and experiencing “critical staffing shortages.”
Officers would “receive a locality pay differential of up to $10,000 per year in addition to the officer’s regular salary,” the bill states. The committee substitute offers additional language which governs how pay is to be prorated should officers transfer between a critical needs facility and one that does not meet a critical needs definition.
In a fiscal note provided by the state’s Division of Corrections, it is estimated that the bill will cost the state approximately $6.7 million for fiscal year 2024 for 940 positions, both filled and vacant.
“This would include employee benefits at 18.5%,” the fiscal note continues.
A similar bill, the Governor’s requested House Bill 2895, attempts to address the staffing shortages differently than the Senate Bill by offering a $10,000 cost of living stipend instead of locality pay.
SB 464’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley, asked to amend the bill to make the effective date of the possible locality pay increase to take effect July 1, 2023.
Following the amendment’s passage, this bill is now headed before the Senate Finance Committee.
Next, the committee substitute of SB 634, introduced by Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Woodrum, R-Summers, was advanced. This bill would raise the sales price on municipal owned real property that must be sold through public auction, and therefore subject to public notice, from $1,000 to $10,000.
“The bill would allow the municipality to dispense with the notice and public auction requirements if the municipality finds that the ‘highest and best use of the property’ is that it be conveyed to an owner of property that is adjacent to the property to be sold,” counsel explained.
The committee substitute adds language that employees and officials of the municipality must be excluded from the provisions of the bill.
SB 634 is now headed before the full Senate for additional consideration.
Then, the committee substitute of SB 91 was advanced, which would clarify rules relating to the “distribution of certain taxes and surcharges to benefit volunteer and part-volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services providers as well as certain funds from the Fire Protection Fund.” The committee substitute version of the bill replaces its original language with that of House Bill 3153.
Currently, there is a 12% safety fee levied on the retail sale of fireworks in West Virginia. This bill clarifies that a portion of that fee, 25%, must be allocated to the Fire Protection Fund and distributed to eligible fire departments, including volunteer and part-volunteer, on a quarterly basis.
The bill would also raise the surcharge on fire casualty insurance policies from 0.55% to 1%.
Premium increases would be split equally between the Fire Protection Fund and the Emergency Medical Services and Equipment and Training Fund, which was created by the legislature in 2018, but never received funding.
A fiscal note attached to the bill states that “The increased amount of premium surcharges paid by WV policyholders” would equal about $12.3 million.
According to counsel, there are 415 volunteer fire departments and 12 part-volunteer fire departments throughout the state. These departments get approximately $50,000 a year from the Fire Protection Fund. Should this bill pass, the surcharge increase would provide about $15,000 more to each volunteer and part-volunteer fire department each year out of the Fire Protection Fund.
SB 91 is now going before the Senate Finance Committee for their consideration.
The committee then advanced three originating bills.
The first originating bill would allow the Division of Natural Resources to issue lifetime non-resident, statewide hunting, trapping, fishing and bear hunting licenses as well as lifetime non-resident stamps for trout fishing, archery, deer hunting (include muzzleloader), turkey, and National Forest hunting, fishing and trapping.
The lifetime fee would be approximately $805, and reduced for those under the age of 15.
The second originating bill would “exempt the purchase, procurement or the implementation of information technology products that are in response to a qualified security incident,” it would require that “state agencies explore digitization of existing paper forms and applications,” and it would require the state’s chief information officer to “create and implement a technology modernization strategy.”
The third originating bill updates language in eight sections of the state code to accurately reflect program administration requirements between the Department of Tourism and the Division of Natural Resources.
Each originating bill will now go before the full Senate for additional consideration.
Lastly, the committee advanced a substitute for SB 62, which would allow those who operate licensed racetracks to open a secondary location within the county with no additional annual fees ($1.5 million per year), or initial licensing fee ($2.5 million), providing they receive approval from the State Lottery Commission, and have received a majority approval vote by those within the county.
The committee substitute removes prior language relating to special elections. Now, as the bill is written, the racetrack would be “required to wait for the next primary or general election,” counsel stated. Racetracks would also be required to offer the same amenities at their second location as they do at their first location.
An amendment proposed during a special subcommittee meeting by Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, which would require racetrack operators to pay an annual licensing fee at their second location, was voted down.
SB 62 will now appear before the full Senate for further consideration.