By Matt Young, WV Press News Service
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A proposed bill making its way through the West Virginia House of Delegates seeks to add “choose life” to the state’s collection of specialty license plates.
SB 91, originally introduced on Jan. 12 by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, calls for the creation of a “special registration” license plate which would allow registered vehicle owners to show their support for adoption. SB 91 was one of two bills discussed during the House’s Committee on Technology and Infrastructure during its meeting on Monday.
After adopting several concurrent resolutions as recommended by Del. Zach Maynard, R-Lincoln, chair of the Honorary Namings Sub-Committee, discussion of SB 91 began. In lieu of reading the full bill as proposed, committee general counsel provided a brief overview, as well as several additional details. Counsel advised that beyond the creation of the “choose life” plate, if passed, SB 91 would authorize the legislature to alter or discontinue existing specialty license plates, and establish new specialty license plates at their discretion.
Counsel went on to explain the “strike and insert” amendment attached to the bill, stating “(amendment) would add a special license plate for West Virginia state troopers who have retired.”
SB 91 was adopted as amended by the committee and will now move to the Committee on Government Organization for further deliberation.
Next on the agenda was SB 129. First introduced by Sen. Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, the proposed bill intends to make it “unlawful for public utility to prohibit customers from hiring contractors to construct, install, or maintain connections to public utility.” Counsel once again provided an overview.
“As with the previous bill, there is a committee ‘strike and insert’ which would make technical changes to better comport with PSC’s rules regarding alternative mainline extensions, and by increasing the PSC’s oversight of any such changes in order to prevent damage to public utility infrastructure,” counsel explained.
Public Service Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane then appeared before the committee to advise them on the current process by which utility customers can apply for an alternate mainline extension.
“If someone wants to tap into an existing utility, they can apply and file with the PSC,” Lane said. “We get those generally approved within 30 days. Our rules set forth all of the requirements that the contractors who are doing the service have to meet. It’s a very rigorous process. This bill codifies everything that we are currently doing at the PSC, except that it would require that we issue an order either affirming or denying an alternate mainline extension within 60 days.”
Lane went on to explain that the overall need for the bill stems from certain utilities refusing to allow customers to use private contractors. The reasoning for this, according to Lane, is that public utilities are “afraid” to allow private contractors to add on to existing systems due to the possibility of inferior work.
“The advantage of that (SB 129) is, believe it or not, not everybody reads our rules and regulations,” Lane said. “So it doesn’t hurt anything to have it in the statute. Our rules require that the contractors have to meet certain specifications. The PSC oversees what these mainline extensions are.”
Under the terms of the proposed bill, once work on an alternative mainline extension is completed by a private contractor, ownership then transfers to the PSC. Furthermore, the requirement for entering into alternate mainline extensions would only apply to “utilities that are political subdivisions of the state,” and would not apply to private utilities, a point which caused some debate amongst committee members.
The debate ultimately led to the proposals of four additional amendments to the amendment. The first such amendment, seeking to exempt the Morgantown Utility Board from the provisions of the bill, was rejected. An amendment seeking to require that contractors provide all necessary permits to the particular utility, and an amendment requiring the inclusion of “final record drawings” were both adopted by the committee. The final proposed amendment, which would specify that the same requirements be imposed upon both public and private utilities, was also rejected.
After several more moments of often contentious deliberation, Minority Vice-chair Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, said, “I don’t know whether this is a good policy or not. With the discussion and the amendments what I’ve found is there’s not been any consistency, or any good reasoning. It’s all about political power, not about consistency. I’m going to vote no.”
In a close vote, SB 129 was adopted as amended, and will now move to the Committee on Government Organization for further deliberation.