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Senator concerned whether budget will be completed without special session

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — With 25 percent of the session already elapsed, the clock is ticking on arriving at a balanced budget.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, expressed concern Monday over whether the budget would be completed without the need for a lengthy special session.

Majority Leader Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said he is confident the budget will be completed without a need for a special session. He said the Senate has taken steps to expedite the process by creating subcommittees under the Senate Finance Committee to discuss different areas in the budget.

The four subcommittees were created last week on education, military affairs/public safety, DHHR, and administration/lottery.

“This will expedite the process to avoid getting into an extended budget session,” Ferns said.

Woelfel asked if the subcommittees are focusing solely on cuts or if the Senate’s proposed budget would include revenue enhancements as well. Ferns said no decisions have been made in either area to his knowledge.

“Going into June like last year is unacceptable to citizens of our state,” Woelfel said.

Ferns said the goal is to present the budget in advance of the normal procedure.

After the floor session, Ferns said the subcommittees should to speed up the process by meeting with heads of agencies individually to respond to how cuts or changes in revenue would affect them, rather than agency heads presenting to the full Finance Committee.

The subcommittees will meet with Finance Committee staff on topics they are designated to review to go through line-by-line in a given section.

“My opinion and the Finance chairman’s opinion is that this is the way it was always intended to go but in the past, the practice just became the entire Finance Committee as each of the agency heads come up to us and present to us what the proposed budget is and why they need that. … We are reversing the process to look through the budget and identify areas that we feel has potential to be changed and go back to the agency and say, ‘this is what we’re proposing. Tell us what this means to you.’”

He said another goal is to get bills that affect the budget out ahead of time.

“The Finance chair mentioned yesterday that this committee is well ahead of any work the Finance Committee has done in any year prior to this year,” Ferns said. “We are way ahead of schedule. Probably some people would like to see the budget in the next week or two weeks but I don’t think that’s realistic.”

Other legislative action:

The Senate passed three bills Tuesday. Senate Bill 202, adds a new section of code that would prevent pawnbrokers from accepting a prepaid card or gift certificate. Those that violate would be charged with a misdemeanor offense. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the reason for the law is because law enforcement officers have seen gift cards in this fashion used for money laundering and illicit activity processed through pawn shops. Of the 32 members present, 30 voted for the bill and Sens. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, voted against it.

The Senate also passed SB 249, which amends a single section of code that adds a person’s birthday and current address into an abstract of judgment in land records at the county clerk’s office to clarify who owns the land if a judgment is rendered against them. All 32 members present voted for the bill.

The third bill the Senate passed was SB 134, which allows the Bureau of Commerce to promulgate legislative rules. All members present voted for passage.

The Senate advanced three bills to second reading:

SB 188, which corrects the definition of telehealth

SB 222, which disqualifies a worker’s unemployment benefits for time that a person where a person lost or left a job as a result of a strike or labor dispute.

SB 242, which relates to school calendars. The bill allots one noninstructional day for teachers to prepare for opening school and another for teachers to prepare for closing school. It also increases the number of two-hour blocks for faculty senate meetings from four to six, removes the requirement that faculty senate meetings be held once every 45 days and permits certain accrued minutes to be used for lost instructional days.

The Senate also advanced two bills to second reading:

SB 182, which provides procedures to disqualify low bids of government construction contracts due to document technicalities.

SB 240, which creates a crime for the nonconsensual distribution of sexual images or threatening to distribute images.

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