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At the Capitol: End of session kills several bills

House Majority Leader Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan,  reads legislation during the final night of the Legislative session at the state Capitol in Charleston.
House Majority Leader Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan,
reads legislation during the final night of the Legislative session at the state Capitol in Charleston.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — No matter which party is in charge, one rule of the Legislature is ironclad: the session ends at midnight on the 60th day.

On Saturday, midnight brought the demise of several key bills for the 2015 legislative session, as time ran out on initiatives to repeal Common Core educational standards, permit charter schools in the state, repeal smoking bans for racetrack casinos, gambling parlors and fraternal organizations, as well as a call for a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Of course you’re going to have bills that don’t make it. That’s part of every session,” House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said of the bills that died on the last night. “There’s only 60 days.”
Also Saturday night, a bill sought by the oil and gas industry to require landowners to sell or lease their mineral rights for horizontal drilling wells if 80 percent of surrounding landowners had entered into such agreements was defeated in the House of Delegates on a rare 49-49 tie vote that marked an unusual coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans (HB2688). Supporters of the bill contended it is key to further development of the lucrative Marcellus Shale gas fields in the state.
“This is probably the biggest jobs bill we’ve had in the last 60 days,” Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, said in urging support for the bill.
Opponents, however, saw the bill as giving permission to oil and gas companies to take people’s property.
In the Senate, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, was one of the opponents, describing the forced pooling legislation as a gift to the oil and gas industry. “A gift on the backs of West Virginia property owners,” he said. “This is a taking. The state is getting involved in forcing people to give up their property.”
The bill earlier passed the Senate 24-10.
Much of the fireworks in the last night of the session was over attempts to salvage a bill that originally started out as a proposal to legalize fireworks sales in the state, with the proceeds going to
support veterans’ organizations (HB2646).
However, once the bill got to the Senate, casino industry lobbyists convinced senators to add a proposal to exempt racetrack casinos, as well as veterans’ organizations from local health departments’ indoor
smoking bans.
In order to make that palatable to legislators who weren’t keen onrolling back smoking bans, the Senate also inserted a proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $1 a pack over the next two years. Saturday afternoon, the House refused to accept the Senate amendments in the bill, setting off a flurry of activity to try to save the
legislation.
At one point, a House-Senate conference committee was appointed at 7:40 p.m., and miraculously in less than 10 minutes had approved a conference report that had somehow materialized. That agreement dropped the tobacco tax hike, but broadened the ability of casinos, Limited Video Lottery parlors, veterans and fraternal organizations to obtain exemptions to indoor smoking bans.
The report was filed at 7:50 p.m. – just 10 minutes before the Saturday night deadline for conference committee reports. However, delegates quickly soured on the hastily drafted bill, after discovering it defined smoking as inhaling “tobacco smoke or smokefrom any other plant” — which they feared could permit marijuana use at locations where smoking was permitted. With that, the bill’s chances went up in smoke, figuratively.
Also on the final day of the 2015 regular session:
— A resolution that would have made West Virginia the 27th of the 34 states needed to call a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution (SCR13) was allowed to die in the House, over concerns floor debate over the resolution could last for hours.
“It’s going to have to be taken up in another session,” House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said, adding, “It’s a shame we didn’t get it sooner.”
Opponents of the resolution, including former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Neeley, warned that a constitutional convention on a balanced budget amendment would actually open the entire U.S. Constitution to revision or repeal.
— On a lighter note, the Senate passed and sent to the governor a bill allowing private businesses to give money to the Division of Highways in order to fill potholes or make other minor road repairs (HB2571).
Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said the bill allows contributors to specify which repairs they are funding, noting, “In other words, you designate which pothole you want fixed.”
However, other senators, including Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said the idea the state is asking business owners to pay for pothole repairs is a sad statement about the poor conditions and lack of maintenance of state roads.
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