The House has so far passed 24 House bills and three Senate bills. Two of those Senate bills were the most hotly debated issues among delegates this week:
Senate Bill 1, Establishing the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, passed 54-46 Thursday following a nearly five-hour debate.
Sponsors: Senate President Cole (R-Mercer), Blair (R-Berkeley), Boso (R-Nicholas), Ferns (R-Ohio), Gaunch (R-Kanawha), Trump (R-Morgan), Majority Leader Carmichael (R-Jackson), Sypolt (R-Preston) and Takubo (R-Kanawha).
The bill prohibits any requirement that a person become or remain a member of a labor organization as a condition of employment, as well as any requirement that a person must pay dues or other fees to a labor organization. This bill positions West Virginia to become the 26th right-to-work state.
Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, who is the longest-serving member of the House, has been introducing right-to-work legislation each year since at least 1988. He had this to say following Thursday’s vote: “I've been waiting many years for this day, and I look forward to being able to see the benefits this will bring to the state of West Virginia.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he will veto the bill. That veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate.
Senate Bill 364, Supplemental appropriation expiring funds from General Revenue, was also debated heavily during its amendment stage on Monday.
Requested by the Governor, the supplemental appropriation bill takes $51.8 million from the state’s Revenue Shortfall Reserve Fund (also called the Rainy Day Fund), as well as $6.7 million from two other funds and transfers it into the state’s General Revenue Fund to help the state meet some immediate cash flow needs. Those needs included payments to programs that assist the state’s disabled and poor residents, including Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Minority members of the House sought to amend the bill to divert those funds toward the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which is facing a $120 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1. That amendment was defeated on a 63-36 vote.
“While funding PEIA is a top priority for leaders of both parties, and we are working with the Governor toward a solution, the proposal put forward today offered no long-term solutions,” House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said of the amendment Monday.
The House will have a full slate of legislation to review and vote on next week. Some of the bills that will likely come up for a vote include:
House Bill 4145, Relating to carry or use of a handgun or deadly weapon, is set for debate on amendments and a final vote in the House on Monday.
Sponsors: Delegates Blair (R-Berkeley), Azinger (R-Wood), Butler (R-Mason), Cadle (R-Mason), Eldridge (D-Lincoln), Householder (R-Berkeley), Marcum (D-Mingo), Overington (R-Berkeley), Phillips (D-Logan), Sobonya (R-Cabell) and Upson (R-Jefferson).
Nicknamed “Constitutional Carry,” the bill would allow West Virginians 21 and older to carry a firearm in a concealed manner without a permit, so long as certain conditions are met. Those between ages 18 and 21 would still need to obtain a permit.
If passed, West Virginia would join seven other states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine Vermont and Wyoming – which do not require permits for residents to carry concealed firearms.
Similar legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by the Governor after the legislative session had ended.
House Bill 4012, the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is expected to come up for a vote late next week. The House Judiciary Committee adopted an amended version of that bill on Wednesday; the amended version of the bill will be reported to the House floor at the beginning of the week.
Sponsors: Delegates O’Neal (R-Raleigh), Speaker Armstead (R-Kanawha), Hanshaw (R-Clay), Moye (D-Raleigh), Fast (R-Fayette), A. Evans (R-Grant), Azinger (R-Wood), Waxman (R-Harrison), Romine (R-Tyler), Rowan (R-Hampshire) and Phillips (D-Logan).
The bill is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It establishes a four-part balancing test for courts to use in cases where a person believes their exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action, that being: 1.) Does a person have a sincerely held religious belief? 2.) Has it been substantially burdened by government? 3.) Does government have a compelling interest to substantially burden that belief? 4.) Has government exhausted all other means to achieve its goals without infringing on that belief?
“Religious freedom is a basic human right, and a vital Constitutional right, that deserves protection under West Virginia law,” said House Majority Whip John D. O’Neal IV, R-Raleigh. “Every West Virginian should be free to live and work according to their faith without fear of being punished by government.”
Also up for consideration in committee next week:
House Bill 4228, Relating to transportation network companies, is on the agenda for consideration by the House Finance Committee at its 2 p.m. meeting Monday.
Sponsors: House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) and Delegates B. White (R-Kanawha), Shott (R-Mercer), Espinosa (R-Jefferson), E. Nelson (R-Kanawha), Howell (R-Mineral), Upson (R-Jefferson), Trecost (D-Harrison), Reynolds (D-Cabell), Gearheart (R-Mercer) and Hamrick (R-Harrison)
The bill will allow transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to do business in West Virginia and provide guidelines for their operations.
A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass by the end of the session due to several issues, including concerns regarding insurance, Division of Motor Vehicles registration and taxi deregulation. Cowles said all prior issues were addressed by lawmakers during interim committee meetings over the past year.
Cowles said the bill will help improve the state’s economy by allowing a service that residents of other states have benefitted from and grown to expect when they travel across the country: "In some ways, tourists and business travelers have come to rely and expect this kind of service when they come to West Virginia," Cowles told the Martinsburg Journal this week. "The fact that we don't have it is a missing component of our state."