By Autumn Shelton, WV Press News Service
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia volunteer firefighters, who have at least five years of service, may no longer need to pay vehicle registration and license plate fees if House Bill 4416 receives passage during the 2022 legislative session.
The bill was first introduced on Thursday, Jan. 27, through lead sponsor Adam Burkhammer, R – Lewis, and has since made its way to the House Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services, where it was briefly discussed during Wednesday’s meeting.
The bill would add language to WV Code §17A-3-2, stating that eligible volunteer firefighters will have their license plate and vehicle registration fees waived for one non-commercial personal vehicle, as long as they have been a firefighter for at least five years. Each firefighter who wishes to take advantage of this fee waiver must present an affidavit from the fire chief stating that he or she has been a volunteer firefighter for at least five years when it is time to renew their vehicle’s registration.
According to information provided on the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles website, the current rate for a standard Class A license plate is $51.50 for both new plates and renewals. The rate for a specialty firefighter volunteer plate is $61.50 for a new plate and $51.50 for renewal.
Committee members moved to have the bill reported to the floor upon the recommendation that it be passed, but first, it has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
In other committee business, members discussed House Bill 4279, which was introduced on Wednesday, Jan. 19, through lead sponsor Joe Statler, R – Monongalia, who also serves as chair of the House Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services.
This bill relates “to the distribution of certain taxes and surcharges to benefit volunteer and part-volunteer fire departments,” according to Statler, who spoke during the meeting.
If passed, the bill will clarify requirements for the distribution of Fire Protection Fund money and ensure that every eligible volunteer fire department receives an equal share of funding that will be distributed every quarter.
The Fire Protection Fund, set up through the West Virginia State Treasury, receives money several ways, including through proceeds from the 12-percent state Fireworks Safety Fee, an additional one-percent fire and casualty insurance premium tax and a .055 percent surcharge on fire and casualty insurance policies – designed specifically to benefit volunteer fire departments.
Following a brief discussion relating to the differences in funding distribution for full volunteer fire departments versus part-paid volunteer fire departments, Statler suggested that any questions concerning funding conflict should be asked of those in the West Virginia State Treasury’s office.
Sarah Canterbury, representing the Treasurer’s office, stated during the meeting that she believes the conflict concerns the “three different statutes that directed surcharge monies into [the] fund” and “contradictory, conflicting language as to how those would be prorated to part volunteer departments.”
She explained that the surcharges had been distributed differently in the past, and that the Joint Interim Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services had previously made the suggestion that “the best way to reconcile these sections was to make all of these distributions subject to the reduction for part-paid, which was proportionate to the number of paid versus part-paid” volunteer firefighters.
She added that there would be a very slight increase in funding from the Fire Protection Fund for all full volunteer fire departments should this bill pass.
The funding increase is estimated to total about one percent.
Following this clarification, the committee made the motion to pass House Bill 4279 to the floor for passage, but first be referred to the House Committee on Finance.
Co-sponsors of House Bill 4416 include Delegates Lovejoy, Riley, Mallow, Barrett, Householder, Statler, Hardy, Keaton, Pinson and Hanna.
Co-sponsors of House Bill 4279 include Delegates Bridges, Jennings, Kimes, Lovejoy, Paynter, Pethtel, Toney and B. Ward.