The Times West Virginian

January 25, 2014

Legislature addresses chemical leak

Each agency presents ‘wish list’ as work on state budget continues

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

CHARLESTON — The 2014 West Virginia legislative session began Jan. 8, two and a half weeks ago.

Since then, legislators have been busy, working on the budget, drafting new bills and responding to the Elk River chemical spill.

While the budget is usually the first item of business, it was important to balance that concern with helping to address the chemical leak that left 300,000 without water.

“When you have an emergency, that’s what the government has to work on first,” Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, said.

A chemical tank bill in the state Senate would work to improve regulation of chemical tanks, like the Freedom Industries tank that caused the water contamination. The Legislature has also held public hearings on the issue.

“It’s something that could happen anywhere, so we have to take measures to be prepared,” Longstreth said.

But the Legislature has also had to continue business as usual.

“The Finance Committee has been working very hard conducting budget hearings, and that’s something we do every year,” Majority Whip and Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said. “Every agency presents their ‘wish list,’ so to speak.

 “The budget usually takes the first half of the session.”

State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, chair of the Finance Committee, said that, with the Affordable Care Act, one important aspect of the budget this year is Medicaid.

“We passed a bill out of the Senate this week to fully fund Medicaid for this year’s budget,” Prezioso said.

And committees are also hard at work in the background, getting bills together for the state Senate and House.

One of those bills is the Creating False Claims Act, for which Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, is a lead sponsor.

The bill is based on bills already on the books in other states, and is also called a “qui tam act.” The act will allow ordinary citizens to sue in the place of the government when they find evidence of any entity defrauding the government.

“It is designed to reduce fraud against the government and taxpayers,” Manchin said. “The essence of the bill is that if somebody is guilty of defrauding the government, whether it is a public official or a contractor or a prescription drug manufacturer, that someone who turns in evidence of fraud can bring suit on behalf of the government.”

Manchin said that 30 states have already adopted similar measures, as has the federal government. The bill is currently in the Judiciary Committee for revision.

Most bills are still in committee and will be presented and voted on later on in the session.

State Sen. Bob Beach could not be reached for comment.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.