WVPA Sharing

WV House hears heated debates on several bills as 2022 session near conclusion

By Matthew Young, WV Press News Sharing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As the West Virginia legislature moves ever closer to the conclusion of the 2022 session, third readings once again prompted heated debate on the House floor.

Delegates spent more than two hours deliberating five bills, with only one bill being free of any discussion. SB 228, which was introduced by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson and seeks to provide tuition and fee waivers for West Virginia’s Americorps volunteers, was passed unanimously by the House. 

SB 10, introduced by Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, which would allow those applying for hunting and fishing licenses to make a voluntary donation to the WVU Rifle Team, and Committee Substitute for SB 205, introduced by Sen. Michael Maroney, R-Marshall, designed to expand PEIA Board membership by two members, were both passed by the House with minimal discussion. 

SB 1, however, which calls for the creation of a “Mining Mutual Insurance company,” was debated for nearly 90-minutes. First introduced by Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, the bill appropriates $50 million to be used by said Mining Mutual Insurance company to provide “initial capital and surplus” for the purposes of bonding coal-industry developers. The developers serviced by HB 1 would be those typically considered high-risk by private-sector lenders. Three amendments were proposed.

The intention of the first amendment, proposed by Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, was to make “technical clarifications,” and “delete unnecessary and confusing language. The second amendment, proposed and explained by Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, “would require that the $50 million would actually get paid back.” In its present form, the bill states that all funds would be paid back as “credits,” rather than cash. The final amendment, proposed by House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, Jr., D-Kanawha, requires that none of the $50 million in appropriated funding could be used to finance “political action committees or state campaigns.”  Only Householder’s amendment was adopted.

Debate then began on the bill as a whole, with Del. Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, asking, “We’re doing this because the state allows companies to self-bond, and with the slowing of coal production there’s not enough in the reclamation fund to cover the cost, is that correct?”

Householder confirmed that to be true, but could not speak to how the sum of $50 million had been decided upon by the Senate. Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, then pointed out that no one representing the coal industry had appeared at committee meetings to advocate for the bill’s passage. 

“There was no one there saying ‘this is really what we have to do, and this is why,’” Gearheart said. “The coal industry just took a pass on advocating for this particular bill.”

Gearheart then referenced the “post audit report” which prompted Blair to propose the bill, stating, “It (post audit report) indicated a caution. I don’t know that it indicated an immediate action that would require us to put $50 million into forming a private enterprise that’s going to compete with the companies that are currently in that business, and currently not having any distress.”

After Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, referred to SB 1 as “the socialization of risk,” Del. Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, rose in support of passage. 

“Coal mining has had a pretty good run, but it’s getting harder by the day,” Payneter began. “You have banks that won’t fund projects. Any day now you’re going to see pressure on these bond companies saying that we’re not going to insure any energy projects. This is a good, proactive approach to prevent that when it happens. Not if – when. The way things are and the way things are going, I have to support this because we will probably have to rely on it.”

 SB 1 passed the House by a margin of 61-votes for, and 36-votes against. 

Committee Substitute for SB 230, another bill introduced by Rucker, and explained by Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, was the fifth and final third reading of the day. 

“The bill clarifies that actions taken by an employer related to declared States of Preparedness or States of Emergency, and matters relating to protected classes under the West Virginia human rights act may not be grieved,” Moore said. “It exempts the Division of Personnel as a party to grievances involving Department of Transportation employees.”

The bill was deliberated for over 30-minutes, with only Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam,  rising in support of passage. 

“It seems like a lot of people are confused about the ‘loser pays’ in this bill,” Foster said. “It’s simple – if you don’t want to have to pay somebody else’s attorney fees, you just don’t bring an unfounded case with malice.” 

The bill was then rejected by the House by a margin of 39-votes for, and 61-votes against. 

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