by ANDREA LANNOM
Last week, the House passed a bill that supporters hope will help spur economic diversification in the Mountain State.
The bipartisan bill, led by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, aims to attract large projects to develop infrastructure and further economic development.
"This is a vehicle that is intended to make it easier to invest money in West Virginia," Hanshaw explained. "The lowest hanging fruit would be the development of infrastructure in the petrochemical base, targeted as a state to recruit and grow that here in West Virginia. However, it could be anything."
House Bill 4001 has three parts. It would establish a special revenue account called the West Virginia Impact Fund, create the Mountaineer Impact Office, and establish an Investment Committee.
Under the bill, a 7-member committee would be established, comprised of the governor or his designee, the commerce secretary or his designee, and five people appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate who have backgrounds in finance or economics. The committee would hire a managing director for a newly-created Mountaineer Impact Office.
The Mountaineer Impact Office would look globally for potential investment. The office would present potential projects to the Investment Committee, which would approve or reject the proposals.
The committee would look into several factors in deciding whether to approve the projects, including the ability to leverage other sources of funding, whether investment funding for the project is available, whether the project would create or retain jobs, whether the project would promote economic or infrastructure development, and whether the project is in the public's best interest.
The Mountaineer Impact Office would deposit income from investments into the special revenue fund, called the West Virginia Impact Fund, and report annually on these investments. Money in this fund would be non-taxpayer dollars and instead would come from investments.
"Other states are able to offer huge tax incentives but West Virginia doesn't have the capital to do that," Hanshaw said. "We are a state of 1.8 million people. This is a way to bring capital to West Virginia."
The minimum aggregate investment in a project by the investment committee or the committee and investors, would have to be $25 million or more. Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Bates said the bill is a way for West Virginia to attract large businesses.
"This fund is for big projects, not shopping malls," Bates said. "These would be for investments in natural gas, the petrochemical industry but also areas outside of that. I think there are large opportunities for tourism. However, we are not going to be picking projects. The private sector is picking the projects. We would be certifying them."
The bill provides safeguards including that the committee is precluded from engaging in business with entities deemed to be an enemy of the state, those involved in human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, or sponsors of terrorism. The bill also prohibits individuals in government from profiting from investments in the fund.
In last Friday's floor session, many delegates expressed concerns about compliance with federal law under the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. Hanshaw emphasized House Bill 4001 does not change federal law. Investors would still have to comply with federal regulations.
"CFIUS still has jurisdiction over this," Hanshaw said. "This is a vehicle to comply with those requirements. This sets up a mechanism for investors beyond our borders to comply with CFIUS rules, not to exempt it."
Hanshaw said the purpose of the bill is to reduce the risk of these investments.
"This is a mechanism for entities that wish to invest in the U.S. to comply with the rules under CFIUS," Hanshaw said. "The committee's purpose is to review transactions in the U.S. engaged by any entity beyond the borders of the U.S. Any foreign company, fund, or investment, could be unwound up to two years later. The new fund would not be excluded from CFIUS."
Bates explained that the fund provides a level of safety for the investments.
"CFIUS was meant to be as a shield but has been used as a club," Bates added. "The structure with the fund with private money being parked in a state-sponsored fund provides a level of safety that doesn't exist anywhere else at this point. There is nothing the state could do to prevent the federal government from coming in but it is an after market warranty, or a hedge against a large deal."
The bill is currently pending before Senate Finance.
"This bill has been significantly re-worked and improved over the course of several weeks," Bates said. "There was a lot of input from a lot of different people. I don't see the downside in this. We will see what the Senate does with it but I am hopeful they will take this up."
As of Friday, February 28, 2020, 853 bills have been introduced to the Senate. Of those bills, 258 have passed and advanced to the House.
SB 38 allows county boards of education to offer high school students an elective social studies course on sacred texts or comparable world religions. The bill allows a student to use a translation of their choice.
SB 106 makes daylight savings time the official time year-round in the state. If the bill becomes law, it will only be made effective after federal congressional action to allow it.
SB 284 creates the West Virginia Health Care Continuity Act, which ensures that healthcare coverage plans meet certain standards while remaining affordable and are not denied to persons with preexisting conditions.
SB 472 creates an alternative sentencing program for work release for individuals convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. The bill allows such persons to work with the Division of Highways or the Division of Natural Resources on tasks such as cleaning up state parks or highways.
SB 511 regulates pawnbrokers to better prevent the selling of stolen property and assist in the recovery of stolen property by the police. The bill states that pawnbrokers cannot purchase from a minor or a person who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
SB 528 creates the Uniform Worker Classification Act. The purpose of the bill is to create a test to distinguish independent contractors from employees.
SB 578 recalculates the tax on producing, selling and generating solar electricity. The bill aligns the price with other energy taxes.
SB 579 authorizes enhanced emergency telephone systems to make changes for the collection, allocation, elimination or establishment of fees.
SB 648 provides dental coverage for adult Medicaid recipients. The bill describes the amount of coverage available and states the state departments responsible for this.
SB 653 increases the number of magistrates in Putnam, Monongalia, Berkeley and Jefferson Counties. The bill states that effective January 1, 2021, Berkeley County will have 6 magistrates, Jefferson County will have 4, Monongalia County will have 5 and Putnam County will have 4.
SB 661 changes the minimum minutes of intersectional time required per day in schools to an average of 5 hours per day throughout the instructional term. The bill prohibits the instructional term from commencing before September 1 and allows county boards of education to publish notice of public hearings for discussing school calendars on the board's website.
SB 668 enacts the Uniform Trust Decanting Act, which allows a trustee to distribute assets of one trust into another trust.
SB 689 creates the Requiring Accountable Pharmaceutical Transparency, Oversight, and Reporting Act. This bill requires drug manufacturers and health benefit plan issuers in the state to provide cost information, changes in cost information and prescription drug statistics to the State Auditor.
SB 705 allows military veterans with certain training to qualify for licensure examinations for electricians and plumbers.
SB 723 requires the Department of Education to annually analyze data on school discipline and create a statewide plan addressing disciplinary actions taken by county boards.
SB 752 updates and improves the WV Medical Cannabis Act by increasing the locations of dispensaries and the acceptable forms of medical cannabis. The bill also clarifies that the Tax Division and the Bureau of Public Health are to monitor the price of medical cannabis.
SB 787 provides benefits to pharmacists for care given within the pharmacist's scope of practice in a way that is equal to the benefits given to a health care provider giving the same care.
SB 838 directs the State Police to develop a referral program for substance abuse treatment, exempting persons seeking treatment from prosecution.
SB 850 clarifies that racial discrimination includes discrimination based on certain hair styles and textures. This includes but is not limited to hairstyles such as twists, braids or locks.
As of Friday, February 28, 2020, there have been 1,530 bills introduced in the House and 243 bills have been passed and now are before the Senate.
House Bill 4019 creates the Downstream Natural Gas Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit Act of 2020. The amount of credit allowable depends upon the cost of the qualified investment property and the number of new jobs created. The bill includes rules for administration and enforcement of the credit. If enacted, the credit would apply to qualified investment property placed in service or use at a downstream natural gas manufacturing facility in this state.
House Bill 4421 creates the Natural Gas Liquids Economic Development Act of 2020. This bill encourages development, transportation and use of natural gas liquids in the state by providing certain tax credits related to the production, transportation, storage, use and consumption of natural gas liquids.
House Bill 4558 provide for a $5,000 tax credit for service by volunteer firefighters to West Virginia personal income tax liabilities. In order to receive the credit, the firefighter must be an active member in good standing.
House Bill 4780 permits school boards to offer social studies elective courses to high school students on the Bible. The bill states that schools will be permitted to teach about the influence of the Hebrew Scriptures or New and Old Testament on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.
House Bill 4882 permits certain non-licensed wineries not located in the state of West Virginia to come to the state and attend a fair and festivals and special one-day charitable wine events, and further temporarily provide wine samples and temporarily sell wine for off-premises consumption in the state with the hopes such wineries may eventually apply for a permanent license in the future.
House Bill 4159 reduces the tax rate on alcoholic apple cider by reclassifying it in code. Once hard cider is reclassified it will be taxed at a rate in between wine and beer. This bill intends to facilitate the growth of the cider industry in West Virginia.
House Bill 4176 gives legislative oversight to the the West Virginia Intelligence/Fusion Center. The Fusion Center will be placed under the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety instead of the Governor's Office where it originated.
House Bill 4362 establishes penalties for emotional abuse of an incapacitated adult; to establish penalties for abuse, neglect or emotional abuse of a nonverbal special need's child; and to establish penalties for causing death of a nonverbal special need's child.
House Bill 4494 creates a Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Task Force and provides money to the Office of Tobacco Prevention to combat tobacco use in West Virginia by using funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Fund.
House Bill 4497 requires an automated defibrillator device and a trained device operator be present at all secondary school athletic events.
House Bill 4574 creates the Just Transition Office to diversify the economy and rebuild communities in areas of the state that have been heavily impacted by the receding coal industry.
House Bill 4602 increases the criminal penalty for DUI causing death when a child was present in the car when the accident occurred. When the death of any person ensues within one year as a result of injury received by the driving of a vehicle with reckless disregard of the safety of others, and a child is present in the vehicle at the time of the accident, the person operating the vehicle will be guilty of a felony, and will be punished by imprisonment from three-fifteen years and by a fine of $2,000 to $5,000.
House Bill 4648 creates the Parenting Fairness Act of 2020. This establishes that a 50-50 custody split between two parents in the case of divorce is in the best interest of their child(ren) and is to be set as the standard for courts in the state. This is to be used in cases when parents cannot come up with their own parenting plan that they both agree on. Additionally, this custody split will only be implemented in cases where abuse, neglect or drug use are not present with one of the parents.
House Bill 4892 reduces personal income tax rates by using money that is directed from certain revenue sources into a new Personal Income Tax Reduction Fund.
House Bill 4958 eliminates the ability for a driver's license to be revoked under the circumstances of unpaid court fines and costs. The purpose of this bill is to allow those with long outstanding fines to legally drive and pay their fines on a payment plan. This legislation aims to keep people working while they have outstanding fines.
House Bill 4969 This bill requires the state Board of Education to implement trauma-informed practices in schools. Trauma-informed practices are meant to help children in schools that have learning difficulties due to trauma that was experienced in their home lives.
House Bill 4009 permits a doctor to order the involuntary hospitalization of a mentally ill or addicted patient that is in clear danger to themselves or other people. In the case of a psychiatric emergency, a doctor may hold a patient for up to 72 hours.
House Bill 4524 permits the sale of alcohol for offsite consumption across the entire state. West Virginia currently has 13 dry areas, which are areas of the state that cannot sell alcohol. Under this new legislation, any political subdivision will be allowed to opt to stay dry. This will allow areas of the state to opt out of selling rather than having to opt in, because the majority of the state does allow for the sale of alcohol.
House Bill 4377 creates The Protection of Eligible Adults from Financial Exploitation Act. The bill details the obligations and duties of broker-dealers or investment advisers to notify certain agencies of potential financial exploitation of eligible adults.
House Bill 4409 transfers remaining funds from the Volunteer Fire Department Workers' Compensation Premium Subsidy Fund at its existing sunset date of June 30, 2020 to the Fire Service Equipment and Training Fund and the State Auditor's Chief Inspector's Fund.
House Bill 4464 prohibits the holder of a level three, full class E license from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle. It also defines driving privileges for children under the age of 18.
House Bill 4560 removes the requirement that wine be purchased with a face-to-face transaction and allows wine specialty shops to sell wine with a gift basket over the phone or online.
House Bill 4717 establishes bookkeeping procedures and internal controls of forfeited properties under the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act.
House Bill 4925 requires the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission to recognize nonpublic schools that meet the requirements of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission for nonparticipating school or team members.
House Bill 4970 prohibits insurers from charging military service members higher insurance premiums, commonly referred to as the "patriot penalty", as a result of a lapse in coverage due their active duty or reserve component military service.