2021 West Virginia State Legislative Session Highlights

Mountain State Spotlight WV Legislative Tracker – great new resource for tracking bills in addition to wvlegislature.gov

Almost 300 bills passed the WV legislature.  What happens next?

After a bill passes both chambers in the same form, it is sent to Governor Justice.  While the legislature is in session, the governor has five days to approve or veto a bill he receives. After the legislature adjourns, the governor has 15 days to act on most bills. However, the budget bill and supplemental appropriations bills must be acted upon by the governor within five days regardless of when they are received. If the governor does not act within these time limits, bills automatically become law without his signature.

If the Legislature is still in session if the governor vetoes a bill, a simple majority vote of the members of both legislative bodies is necessary to override the veto. In cases when a budget bill or supplemental appropriation bill is vetoed, a two-thirds vote of the members of both houses is needed to override the veto.

The list of bills below notes lead sponsors, but the Chairs of Committees of Jurisdiction play a key role in placing a bill on their agenda for a vote, amending the language or a bill before passing out of Committee, or letting the bill “die in Committee.”

First the BUDGET Matters (MLK: “Budgets are moral documents”)

1) Next Fiscal Year’s Budget FY 2021-22 – cuts across the board

Budget runs from July 1 to June 30. Final $4,495,032,115 general revenue budget as a compromise agreement between the two chambers

Requires many state agencies and offices to cut spending by 1.5% in the coming budget year (2021-2022).  Funding to higher education, which had been an area of contention, is maintained through general revenue surpluses.

All Medicaid and social services programs are fully funded, and $7 million is included to fund a new veterans nursing home in Beckley.

Senior Medicaid Waiver and Meals programs are fully funded, and the budget includes a net increase of $2,629,426 in state aid to schools.

The final general revenue budget cuts about $73 million from what the governor initially proposed in his State of the State Address.

The base budget cut WVU by $4.5 million and Marshal by $7.6 million from Governor Justice’s proposed budget and significantly less than each university budget request. But the budget approved by the Legislature provides $16.6 million for WVU and $9.7 million for Marshall from anticipated unspent funds from the current 2020-21 budget year to bring both institutions up to their general revenue funding requests. Through March, the state had a budget surplus of about $237 million (in part due to federal funds provided to the states to respond to the COVID health and economic crisis).

2) Phase-Out of the State Personal Income Tax – died in the House on a vote of 0 yeas and 100 nays

There were multiple versions of proposals to phase-out the state personal income tax considered over the course of the legislative session.  Amended HB 3300, the version that finally passed the Senate but died in the House, included an increase to the retail sales tax from 6 to 8 percent – thus shifting tax burdens to those who make less income. Even with the retail sales tax increase, the proposal shifted taxes from the wealthiest West Virginians to working families and small businesses.  In addition, the proposal blew large revenue holes in the state budget that would require cuts to every state-funded program – from Medicaid to public health to parks/recreation to public schools to higher education to road/bridge maintenance and more.

Governor Justice has stated that he will “barnstorm” the state over the summer to try to sell his proposal to the public.  We shall see if a special session will be called later in the summer to revisit this proposal.

Amended HB 3300 – the final version that died in the House:

  • In its first year, it would have been a net tax increase for the average taxpayer in the bottom 60 percent of households.
  • Even with the income tax fully eliminated, it would have been a net tax increase for the average taxpayer in the bottom 40 percent of households.
  • A household in the top one percent in West Virginia would have received a tax cut that is 171 times as large as that of a household in the middle 20 percent.
  • The Senate plan would have given West Virginia the highest state sales tax in the country.
  • The Senate plan would have made West Virginia one of only four states to tax professional services.
  • When fully enacted, 44 percent of the net savings from the Senate plan would go to the wealthiest five percent of households in West Virginia, those with an average annual income of $346,000.

Second some more GOOD NEWS

HB 2266 - passed

Sponsored by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach (R- Cabell), extends Medicaid coverage for new mothers to 12 months postpartum. This would mostly be paid for with federal funds. Extends Medicaid/CHIP postpartum coverage from 2 months to 12 months for women up to 300% FPL.  The bill only directs the change in Medicaid up to 185% FPL but the CHIP block grant program also will follow the same 12 month extension.

SB 354 - died

Sponsored by Senator Chandler Swope (R-Mercet), this bill was meant to “tighten” hospital presumptive eligibility for Medicaid.

SB 246 and SB 570 – died

Sponsored by Delegate Zack Maynard (R-Lincoln) and Senator Rubie Phillips (R-Logan), these bills were similar to past years’ bills that would allow college students to pack firearms in their backpacks. Last year a coalition of law enforcement and campus security, students, professors and administrators, plus grassroots groups like Moms Demand Action were successful in blocking this terrible idea. Thanks to WVU President Gordon Gee for making a public call for these to be defeated. “[A]s our state’s land-grant university, we advance the right of all Mountaineers to learn, teach, work and speak without fear in a safe, secure environment. We urge state lawmakers to reject these pieces of legislation,” said Gee.

Now the BAD NEWS

HB 2708/SB 694 - died

Sponsored by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach (R-Cabell) and Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone), and championed by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia), these bills provided for private insurance monthly copay caps:  from $100 to $25 on insulin; $25 on other diabetes-related drugs; $100 on supplies & equipment.

HB 3001 – died

Sponsored by Delegate Evan Worrell (R- Cabel), this Medicaid Buy-in bill would allow folks to pay into Medicaid to keep its coverage when they get a slight increase in income that puts them over the Medicaid income eligibility limit. This ‘cliff effect’ keeps some stuck in low paying jobs in order to keep their health care.

SB 387 - passed

Drug screening and testing required for cash assistance - TANF - through 2026

Sponsored by Senator Mike Maroney (R-Marshall), would continue a pilot project overseen by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which has been in effect since 2017. The program requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants to complete a questionnaire and flags participants for drug screenings. Supporters claim the goal is to connect those struggling with substance abuse disorder with treatment, but from October 2019 to September 2020, DHHR reported that out of 2,067 completed drug use screening questionnaires, only seven applicants’ drug tests came back positive, indicating that people with substance use disorder who needed help didn’t take the test. Most TANF recipients are children.

By requiring all TANF recipients to undergo drug screening, the bill will cost  tens of  millions of dollars to the state. Based on multiple faulty assumptions, such as that poor people use drugs.  At a hearing on the bill, the House distributed a packet of information of names of people that FAILED drug tests that was quickly withdrawn.  DHHR supplied at the behest of the chairman, apparently. 

“Drug test” or “drug testing” means a drug test which tests urine for amphetamines 16 (amphetamine and methamphetamine) cocaine, marijuana, opiates (codeine and morphine), 17 phencyclidine, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, propoxyphene, and expanded opiates 18 (oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone)

SB 334 – passed

Lead sponsors Senators Eric Tarr (R-Putnam) and Amy Grady (R-Mason), the SOAR (Solutions Oriented Addiction Response) WV program is the intended target of SB 334. SOAR has been operating a needle exchange in Charleston and distributing Naloxone to local businesses to help save overdose victims. It has come under fire by several city council members for its activities.  Bill sponsor Senator Eric Tarr admitted that since he couldn’t get needle exchange programs outlawed, he was going to “tightly regulate” them. His idea of this is to evidently make them totally useless or impossible. This is a terrible bill that goes 180 degrees against proven medical harm reduction procedures.  “We’re pouring gasoline on a fire with this bill right here,” said Senator Ron Stollings (D- Boone) who is a practicing physician.

Beginning in January of next year, harm reduction programs offering syringe access services would need to have been licensed by the West Virginia Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification — or stop operating.

But licensure isn’t left to the professionals. To even be considered, a program would need to get a letter of support from a majority of both the county commission and local governing body.

Additionally, programs dispensing syringes would be required to operate with a goal of a one-to-one exchange — meaning participants have to bring in a syringe to get a new one — barcode syringes, offer medical and recovery services, and reapply for certification annually. Program participants would need to have a West Virginia ID in order to access syringe services, and would not be allowed to pick up syringes on somebody else’s behalf.

The bill contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s best practices, and comes in the midst of an HIV outbreak in West Virginia’s capital city.

Research demonstrates that harm reduction programs reduce community spread of HIV, increase the likelihood people with substance use disorder will enter treatment, and save money the government would spend on healthcare for people with substance use disorders, 

HB 2982 - passed

Sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger (R-Raleigh), started out requiring doctors to tell patients the abortion pill process can be “reversed,” based on the theory that taking a high dose of progesterone after the first of two bills could reverse the process. The bill was later amended to require those health care providers to tell patients to seek guidance from their doctors if they want to “counteract” the effects of the first of two abortion pills, and also tell patient the effort to “counteract” may not work. Obstetricians/gynecologists have said the bill inserts confusion into the decision-making process and that using progesterone for this purpose is unproven and could be dangerous. 

It forces doctors to give information to patients seeking a medical abortion with major questions on the bill’s legality, potential harm to patients, a lack of FDA approval, and outcry from local healthcare providers stating its lack of safety. 

Makes the completely unsupported and dangerous claim that a medication abortion can be “reversed” through a specific course of hormone treatment. The bill would force medical professionals to provide patients with information that is medically inaccurate, misleading, and could even be harmful to their patients' health.

This legislation undermines doctors' ability to provide informed consent by forcing them to tell patients that their decision to end a pregnancy can be undone when no credible evidence supports that claim. That is why leading medical groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) oppose these types of bills.

Medical professionals must be able to provide the highest quality health care based on their years of training and in keeping with current research and medical best practices. This bill is written by politicians — not doctors — and is about shaming women and blocking access to a safe, legal, medical procedure.

HB 3293 - passed

Sponsored by Delegate Caleb Hanna (R-Nicholas), prohibits trans women and girls from participating in single-gender sports teams consistent with their gender identities. The Senate took out language that would have affected trans boys. The Senate also expanded the bill to include college athletes; it previously focused on middle and high-school students. MetroNews reports the governor says he will let it become law.

It’s a cruel bill that offers a solution in search of a problem. Four major medical associations in West Virginia joined us to condemn the bill, along with several organizations that advocate for women, but that wasn’t enough. 

Sixteen states already allow trans athletes to participate in school sports without any problems. After examining the full body of scientific research available, experts at the NCAA and the International Olympics Committee have allowed transgender athletes to participate in sporting events for many years. Since they have been allowed to participate, transgender athletes have not dominated any category of sport. The bill was recently amended to target college athletes. The NCAA’s president has strongly condemned these kind of bills, and has reaffirmed that the NCAA will only hold events in states that are “free from discrimination.”

School sports are important. They teach our kids the value of discipline, teamwork, self-confidence and other essential life skills. No child should be denied that opportunity.

SB 11 – passed

Lead sponsor Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) with Senators Roberts, Takubo, Maroney and Swope, declares work stoppage or strike by public employees to be unlawful.

SB 272 – passed

Sponsored by Senators Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) and Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier), allows for workers to be more easily reclassified as independent contractors, a bill that has drawn strong criticism from worker advocates and unions.

SB 12/HB 2015 – passed

Sponsored by Senators Michael Maroney (R-Marshall) with Senators Takubo and Swope, increases county health department oversight by the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the state’s Public Health Officer.

SB 277 – passed

Sponsored by Senators Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) and Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier), provides immunity against civil liability for businesses, organizations and individuals with regard to COVID-19.

Amended HB 2694 – passed

Sponsored by Delegate Brandon Steele (R-Raleigh), expressly prohibits West Virginia police officers from enforcing President Biden’s executive actions and other federal guns laws that aren’t in state law.

After mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado, Biden instructed the Justice Department to take action on “ghost guns,” firearms that are assembled at home and lack serial numbers, as well as to create a template that states can use to enact “red flag laws,” which allow courts to order guns be seized from those deemed a threat to themselves or others.

As amended by Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan), the bill now states “red flag” laws are “an anathema to law-abiding West Virginians, who cherish their natural rights and liberties which are guarded by both the Constitution of the United States and the West Virginia Constitution.” The legislation says no court in the state may issue an order to seize firearms under any “red flag” law.

And Finally Notes on Some Additional Bills that Passed

HB 2363 - passed

Lead sponsor Delegate Geof Foster (R-Putnam) promoted the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ bill that states that courts should assume that shared legal and physical custody, including equal time spent with both parents, is best for the child, unless other conditions like abuse are shown.  While the original bill provided that any deviation from a 50-50 shared parenting arrangement had to be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence, the bill was amended at the last minute to create a rebuttal presumption of 50-50 shared parenting.  This is an easier standard for a parent to meet to overcome the presumption of a 50-50 shared parenting arrangement.

Currently, the standard is based on who performs the most caretaking, such as feeding and clothing, with a child spending at least 35% of their time with the other parent. 

Sometimes called “Mad Dad” bills, advocates for children say that these bills allow children to be used as financial leverage in divorce cases and hamstrings family court judges.

HB 2014 – passed

Sponsored by Delegate Shannon Kimes (R-Wood), this bill asserts the legislature’s role in the oversight and control of federal money. This follows Gov. Jim Justice having sole control of $1.25 billion in CARES Act money since the state received it in April. Now any federal emergency funds for any purpose that are more than $150 million must be allocated through the legislature.  

HB 2012 - passed

The lead sponsor Delegate Doug Smith (R-Mercer) of this Charter Schools bill allows for up to 10 charter schools over the next three years (previously only 3 allowed). That includes two virtual schools that will be allowed to enroll up to 25,200 students. The bill also creates an unelected charter school board that can approve charter schools.  Can drain up to 10% of students from public schools.  Concern:  drain of funds that follow these students from the public schools.

The governor also signed Senate Bill 14, which allows for alternative certification for teachers, a bill that educators oppose but one that has been pushed by Republicans for several years.

House Bill 2918 – passed

Sponsored by Delegate David Kelly (R-Tyler), makes permanent the West Virginia Supreme Court’s family drug courts pilot program. Previous legislation made way for the Supreme Court to begin those courts in just four circuits; that limit is removed in the bill. Family drug courts are “specialized court dockets within the existing structure of West Virginia’s court system offering judicial monitoring of intensive treatment and strict supervision of individuals with substance use disorder involved in a child abuse and neglect case,” the law states.

HB 3310 - passed

Lead sponsor Delegate Moore Capito (R-Kanawha), and championed for several years by Senator Richard Lindsay (D-Kanawha), this energy freedom bill will allow Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) that  would enable homeowners, small businesses, churches and other nonprofits to contract with third parties to get solar panels on their properties without going into debt for the cost of the installation. Under a power purchase agreement, a developer arranges designing, permitting, financing and installing a solar energy system on a customer’s property at little or no cost. The customer buys the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period at a fixed rate, usually lower than the local utility’s retail rate, while the solar services provider gains tax credits and income from electricity sales.


HJR 2 is about courts not being able to intervene in an impeachment proceeding of a legislator

HJR 3 is about legislative exclusive authority over property tax

SJR 4 would allow churches and religious denominations to incorporate