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WV House postpones action on revenue bill


The State Journal

After seeing one revenue-generating bill shot down on Tuesday, March 28, members of the West Virginia House of Delegates postponed a vote on a second measure that would have been a key component of a Republican budget plan.

West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, hoped to have a working budget ready a week or two before the end of the 60-day legislative session.
(WV Legislature photo)

Despite the fact that the Legislature does not usually complete a budget bill until the closing days of the 60-day legislative session, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate said they hoped to have budget bills presented a week or two before the close of the session. That hope is looking less likely as the session moves into its final 10 days.

House members voted down one revenue measure that would have brought in about $14 million in revenue. House Bill 2816, requested by Gov. Jim Justice, originally included raising the state sales tax from 6 to 6 ½ percent, removing many tax exemptions, creating a business tax of 2/10 of 1 percent, eliminating the $4 million film credit for film producers and raising the state’s beer barrel tax. The bill was designed to raise about $450 million in revenue.

But the House gutted the bill in committee, which kept only the film credit cut, raising the beer barrel tax from $5.50 to $8 a barrel, and eliminating $11.7 million in general revenue funding that usually goes to the state road fund and keeping it in the general revenue fund.

But even that watered-down tax bill would not fly in the House, where it was attacked by both Democrats and Republicans. Members from both parties objected to ending the film tax credit, which they said has brought film crews into the Martinsburg area and into McDowell County for various film projects.

More conservative members of the House also attacked the bill for raising the beer tax. “Are we conservative, or not?” questioned Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock. “I thought we controlled this chamber. Maybe not.”

House Bill 2816 went down with only 39 delegates voting in favor, and 60 voting against.

The House did not take up House Bill 2933, which would lower the state sales tax to 5.5 percent but remove many tax exemptions to broaden the tax base. The bill, on third reading for passage in the chamber, was first moved to the bottom of the agenda, and then postponed for further consideration until Wednesday.

Another piece of legislation that would affect the state budget, House Bill 2934, has not made it out of the House finance committee. The bill would create a flat 5.1 percent personal income tax rate for state residents.

In other action Tuesday, the House unanimously approved an abortion bill with little fanfare.

The legislation, House Bill 2002, would require parental notification before an unemancipated minor could get an abortion. Under current law, a minor’s doctor can make the determination whether or not telling a parent about an abortion is in the best interest of the minor, or the minor can go to court to have the notification requirement waived, if, for example, the pregnancy was the result of rape by a family member.

The original version of House Bill 2002 removed a doctor’s ability to waive the notification requirement. But some women’s advocates and other delegates said it was intimidating for a minor to have to go to court.

Under a compromise worked out in committee, language was added to the bill that would allow a doctor to go to court on behalf of a minor to ask the notification be waived, or a minor could go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to make the determination whether a parent should be notified.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who was one of the major opponents to the legislation, praised her Republican counterparts for their willingness to compromise. “There are some really serious issues with this bill, and there are some really deep divisions with this bill, but we came together,” she said.

Also Wednesday, the House voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 2453, which would expand the ability of the state to grant licenses to grow industrial hemp. House judiciary committee chairman John Shott said industrial hemp could be a major economic crop for the state.

Other bills did not fare so well. House Bill 3088, which would allow for increasing school class sizes, failed by a vote of 45 in favor and 55 against.

Another education bill, House Bill 2711, passed by a vote of 76-24. The bill would eliminate Regional Education Service Agencies and allow counties to set up cooperatives to do much of what RESAs currently do, and set testing standards for schoolchildren.

Under the provisions of the bill, RESAs would remain in existence until July 1, 2018, but would no longer be funded. The bill would also require the adoption of an ACT-type college entrance test, or a workforce readiness test, before graduating from high school, and require English and math testing once between grades three and eight and once between grades nine and 12 and require science testing once between grades three and five, once between grades six and nine and once between grades 10 and 12.

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