CHARLESTON — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed legislation to combat the problem of overcrowded state prisons and regional jails (SB371) received final approval prior to adjournment of the 2013 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature here last Saturday night.
The bill had been amended by both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Finance Committee earlier in the week. A key change made by the Judiciary Committee last Tuesday revised a provision in the Senate version of the bill that called for automatic release six months early for non-violent offenders. Committee members revised it to make early release a sentencing option for judges but only for people convicted after July 1.
Later the same day, the House Finance Committee adopted an amendment from Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, to extend the implementation deadline for statewide drug courts from July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2016.
The House passed its modified version of the bill on Friday and sent it back to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments. The Senate then voted Saturday to pass the amended version so SB371 is now ready for the governor’s signature.
Meanwhile, legislation to continue the public financing of campaigns for state Supreme Court candidates has encountered different proposals in the House of Delegates and State Senate. Both sides want to continue the plan that was first authorized in the 2012 elections. But the legislation (HB2508) that left the House called for making the pilot project permanent. Last Monday the Senate Judiciary Committee altered that bill to limit it to the 2016 general election because of concerns about the funding for the project.
The pilot project provided funds to successful Justice Allen Loughry in the 2012 race for a 12-year term on the Supreme Court.
Lawmakers also gave final approval to the bill that would make failure to buckle your seat belt while driving a primary offense in West Virginia with a 24-10 vote in the State Senate last Wednesday.
Under current law, failure to buckle up in the car is a secondary traffic offense which means the motorist must be stopped for some primary driving offense before the individual can be charged with the seat belt offense. State police officers say this will save lives by increasing seat belt use. The bill passed the House by a much closer vote two weeks earlier.
The proposal to eliminate tolls on the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike in 2020 that passed the House of Delegates earlier in the session stalled in the Senate during the final week when Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, as chairman of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, decided to let HB3163 die in his committee.
Sen. Beach then introduced a resolution last Wednesday calling for a year-long study of the tolls during the legislative interim committee meetings during the next eight months.
There was also an effort for some last-minute legislative “horse trading” during the final day of the session. But it fell short in the final hours when the Senate refused to approve HB2434 that would give all magistrates the same annual salary of $57,500 per year and also provide raises for their staff. There is currently a two-tier salary for magistrates depending on the size of the county.
This was in response to the decision by the House leadership to take SB125 off the active calendar during the final hours. The legislation would have created a sales tax increment financing district that is expected to provide $96 million of development near Morgantown including a new I-79 exit and a $16 million ball park for West Virginia University and a New York-Penn League minor league baseball team.
The House Health Committee overwhelmingly rejected a bill last Monday to allow local health departments to begin charging a fee for tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases that had unanimously passed the Senate more than a week earlier. Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician who sponsored the legislation, said he was disappointed by the House action because he doesn’t believe the state Department of Health and Human Resources “can continue to pay for it because of the federal cutbacks.
Another dispute between the House of Delegates and state Senate surfaced during the final week with regard to a municipal home rule bill (SB345) because of the desire by members in the House of Delegates to nullify any city’s ordinances relating to regulating the sale of handguns.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, modified his earlier proposal so that the amendment adopted last Wednesday would only allow a municipality to have regulations prohibiting firearms in municipal buildings and facilities. Under the compromise worked out between the two houses the final day, the pilot project for municipal home was extended to 2019.
But cities that have municipal gun ordinances–Charleston is the only city involved that has such a gun law. So if Charleston wants to continue in the extended municipal home-rule program, it must repeal its municipal gun ordinance.
Other bills given final approval before the 60-day regular session adjourned at midnight last Saturday were:
— HB2514, reducing the state’s maximum amount of tax credits under the Film Industry Investment Act from $10 million a year to $5 million annually. The tax credit was created in 2007 and so far only $7.6 million of tax credits have been allowed–never as much as $5 million in a single year.
— SB663, the proposal entitled “Feed to Achieve Act” recommended by a newly-created special Senate committee to provide expanded programs for free breakfast and lunch programs at the state’s elementary and secondary public schools but based solely on contributions.
Lawmakers will continue their work on the state’s 2013-2014 budget bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013 in extended session this week.