Governor calls lawmakers into special session on issues like development fund

West Virginia lawmakers will meet in special session this week to reconsider several bills that still need work after this year’s regular session and to consider a few for the first time.

Governor Jim Justice called the special session Monday, coinciding with interim legislative meetings, to consider 16 bills. At the top of the list, the creation of a fund for economic development projects. Officials have proposed putting up to $600 million into the fund by the end of this fiscal year.

Justice hinted at the special session during a Friday briefing, but without too many details. “There is no point in going into details” he said.

The Democratic caucus leader in the state Senate said the session could be a bit more special, though.

Stephen Baldwin

“On behalf of the minority caucus, I think it’s important to highlight the critical issues that were omitted from the review,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, written in a letter to the president of the chamber.

“Many of these issues are pressing and received overwhelming bipartisan support during the regular session.”

Specifically, Baldwin said he remains disappointed that a foster care bill that fell apart in the final days of the regular session remains so. House Bill 4344 received overwhelming approval from delegates, but saw several of its items deleted in the Senate before failing to reach consensus in both houses on the last day of the regular session.

At one point, the bill included additional pay rises as an incentive for social service workers, a scoreboard to provide more information about the foster care system, an overview of services for families in kinship and a clarification of the role of the foster care mediator.

Baldwin had succeeded in getting the bill amended to include a requirement to follow up on any medical professional’s call to a child abuse hotline, a policy inspired by the tragedy in the community that he represents.

“It is simply unacceptable that we passed no legislation this session to improve our foster care system, and repeating this mistake truly demonstrates our misplaced priorities,” Baldwin wrote in the letter to Senate Speaker Craig. Blair.

Baldwin also argued that the special session should address a bill that would have capped the price of insulin and medical products for diabetics. Both rooms are past House Bill 4252 but ran out of time to agree on the same final version.

He also said the special session should again allow lawmakers to pass policy affecting taxes and surcharges to benefit volunteer firefighters, and he said lawmakers should prioritize consideration of how the covid pandemic has affected county budgets.

And state Democrats like Baldwin continued their call for a gas tax exemption, like the one that spent in Maryland and a being considered in Virginia.

The call for West Virginia’s special session, which is scheduled to begin at noon Monday, involves 16 different bills. One is the bill establishing the economic development fund. The judiciary vetoed the bill a few weeks ago due to technical flaws and is now aiming to get it fixed.

Another is a bill that exempted Bluefield State College much of its current state oversight through the Higher Education Policy Commission. This bill was not considered in the ordinary session and is before the legislators for the first time.

Another bill would formally create an Unemployment Insurance Fraud Unit, a response to the millions of dollars in fraud that have piled up during the enhanced benefits period in the covid-19 pandemic. This bill also missed a deadline for passage to the regular session.

A bill would create a fund for expenses reimbursable by the military authority and provide for the adjutant general to manage it.

A few bills relate to adjustments to the retirement system for public employees and another focuses on the retirement system for West Virginia municipal police officers and firefighters. Another includes family court judges in the judges’ pension system.

One bill makes adjustments to the configurations of several state boards and another makes changes to West Virginia real estate licensing law. A bill limits the number of medical cannabis testing labs in West Virginia to two. And another deals with the prescriptive power of physician assistants.

A bill prohibits and defines the application to fly an aircraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Another establishes alternative educational opportunities for elective course credit.

A bill streamlines ways to give West Virginia University’s consistently successful rifle team. Another makes some changes to hunting regulations, including allowing the use of air rifles when hunting.

Baldwin did not object to considering most of these bills, but questioned whether other issues such as the foster care system should be given priority.

“I urge you to examine the priorities we set as a legislative body and determine whether or not they meet the needs of our people,” Baldwin wrote.

“Do people desperately need a reduction in CPS caseloads and coordinated services for foster children or are they desperate to create a new repayable fund for a government agency? Please consider the message we send to our constituency with the bills we choose to take.

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