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Bill advancing that would eliminate WV Courtesy Patrol

By RUSTY MARKS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Legislature is again considering a bill that would eliminate the state’s Courtesy Patrol.

Members of the House of Delegates Road and Transportation Committee voted Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 to send a bill that would eliminate the roadside assistance agency on to the House Finance Committee. If it passes the House Finance Committee, it would go to the full House for a vote and then go to the Senate.

Lawmakers tried to do away with the Courtesy Patrol last year, and talked about turning over its responsibilities to the state Division of Highways. Eliminating the Courtesy Patrol would save the state about $4.5 million a year.

Originally created by Gov. Cecil Underwood in 1998 as a welfare-to-work program, The Courtesy Patrol employs 95 people to patrol the state’s interstates to answer emergency calls or looking for stranded motorists, debris in the road or animal carcasses. Supporters of the program pointed out the patrol’s call center in McDowell County has taken about 3.2 million calls.

But the funding and spending practices of the Courtesy Patrol, administered through the nonprofit Citizens Conservation Corps, have come under question in recent years.

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said Monday he was against doing away with the Courtesy Patrol. On his drive in from Braxton County, he said he saw 11 stranded vehicles on the interstate. He said the Courtesy Patrol provides vital assistance to motorists in trouble, and saves Division of Highways personnel and law enforcement from having to clean up roadside debris or remove animal carcasses from the state’s roadways. He also wondered whether a private agency could take over funding for the patrol.

Kyle Stollings, director of the Department of Transportation’s maintenance division, conceded it would create more work for highways employees if the Courtesy Patrol was disbanded and its responsibilities turned over to DOT.

But roads committee vice chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, and other delegates on the committee said wrecker services, AAA and private insurance companies pick up or pay for most of the services provided by the Courtesy Patrol, and said the state needed the money in the light of a projected $500 million budget deficit.

The bill to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol initially proposed putting the patrol’s roughly $4.5 million budget back into the general fund. However, Hamrick proposed an amendment that would transfer the money to the state road fund instead.

Hamrick’s amendment passed on a voice vote, as did a motion to approve the bill as amended and send it on to the finance committee and full House.

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