By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
The state Legislature just completed its sixth full week in session.
Thirty-four bills passed in the state Senate last week, and 33 passed in the House of Delegates. Eight bills have passed both chambers so far this session.
Last week was busy in both chambers. The 47th day of session will be today. Bills must be out of committee in their house of origin by this point, so that there is time for three full days for readings. Wednesday is the 50th day of the 60-day session. That is the last day to consider a bill on its third reading in its house of origin. During this “crossover week,” bills will pass from one chamber to the other.
To prepare for this week, legislators were busy working in their committees to get bills out of committee and onto the House and Senate floor.
“We did a couple of things for veterans that the Marion County delegation is really proud of,” Majority Whip and Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said. “One is HB 2895, which will require the POW-MIA flag to fly on county courthouses and other government buildings for those loved ones who never made it home.”
The flag is flown in honor of prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Another bill, HB 2165, will provide two certified death certificates to deceased military veteran’s family.
The House also passed a bill that will provide for the awarding of two state awards to veterans who have served in any of the five federally recognized armed conflicts.
The awards were designed by the West Virginia Veteran’s Council. They are called the West Virginia Veterans Medal and ribbon, and the West Virginia Service Cross and ribbon, and are designed with the state colors and state insignia.
Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, vice-chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said that the bill is close to her heart.
“That was special to me because I am a veteran, and we’re doing something to recognize our own veterans,” Longstreth said. “There are a few things we try to do on the state level for veterans, and this is a thank you. Thank you for your service and for protecting your state and country.”
Two bills passed the House last week that came out of a request from the local business Heston Farm Winery and from the tourism industry. The two bills would relax the rules about the sale of wine and liquor by licensed wineries and distilleries on Sundays, and also allow local businesses to serve alcoholic beverages on Sundays beginning at 11:30 a.m., rather than waiting until 1 p.m., to serve the brunch crowd.
“Wineries and distilleries are flourishing in West Virginia, and it’s great for businesses and the local economy,” Caputo said.
Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, was the lead sponsor on both bills.
“That’s been a big piece that the tourism industry has asked for for a long time, and I was happy we were able to get that out of the House of Delegates and send it to the Senate,” Manchin said. “We have reason to believe they will pass over there as well.”
Another piece of legislation that passed the House last week would protect valued employees during an economic downturn.
“It is completely voluntary, and would allow employers to enter into a plan with the state unemployment office and WorkForce office where they don’t have to lay off an employee in a downturn,” Manchin said. “They don’t want to lay off their good employees.
“This allows them to reduce everyone’s hours, so that if, for example, they had five employees, they can keep all five and reduce their hours by 20 percent. Then the individuals would be able to collect a prorated percentage of their unemployment.”
Manchin explained that the federal government would fund the first year for start-up expenses and the cost of administration.
The Senate was also quite busy this past week.
State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said that one law that passed the Senate this week will reclassify over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine as schedule four controlled substances, meaning they would become prescription only.
“Today, there are a lot of alternatives out there for cold medicine, so we didn’t see that the consumer would be at any disadvantage,” Prezioso said. “That was probably the hardest vote in the Senate. There was a lot of discussion on this particular bill.”
Pseudoephedrine can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
State senators also passed a bill that would work to improve safety for construction workers.
“The bill will set up the OSHA safety program for construction workers, to provide them with an opportunity to have a safety class if they’re working in construction areas, and to make construction work safer,” Prezioso said.
This week, all of the bills that have passed in the House of Delegates and state Senate will be sent for consideration in the other legislative chambers, as a part of “crossover week.”
In the last couple of weeks of session, it will become clear which bills will pass both chambers and become law and which will not.
One issue still on everyone’s mind, however, is the state budget.
Prezioso said that state senators are working through the budget, taking into account any financial obligations posed by proposed legislation.
“It’s a lot of work,” Prezioso said. “It’s something that’s done that some people don’t even realize is being done. It is probably the most important bill that will pass this year.”
Caputo agreed that balancing the budget is a challenge this year.
“But I believe that working together, we will be able to accomplish that goal without raising taxes,” Caputo said.
Longstreth voiced concern about the Legislature working to form a long-term solution.
“It comes to a point now. What are we going to do for the future to keep our budget balanced without digging into the state savings account for emergencies?” Longstreth said. “I just hope we do what is best, and that we’re looking down the road a few years as to how we’re going to manage this, and we make good decisions. What road are we going to take?”
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.