The Times West Virginian

March 2, 2014

‘All about the budget’ at Legislature

Finding ‘some common ground’ this week’s objective

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The 2014 state legislative session is winding down. The 60-day session ends Saturday at midnight.

Last week was the Legislature’s “cross-over week,” where bills that have been passed in one house move to the other for amendments and consideration. Bills had to “cross over” by the end of the day Wednesday to be considered this session, excluding budget and supplementary appropriation bills.

The House of Delegates and the state Senate take turns taking the lead on the budget. This year was the Senate’s turn.

State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, is chair of the Finance Committee.  He said there is still work to be done.

“Next week is going to be all about the budget,” Prezioso said. He predicted the budget would be completed in the state Senate by early this week, and would then pass over to the House of Delegates.

But the big thing next week will be trying to pass bills before the session is out Saturday.

“The Senate will be working on House bills, and the House will be working on Senate bills, and if there are differences, we’ll try to find some common ground before the session ends on Saturday,” Prezioso said.

State Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, agreed.

“The next week and a half will be pretty busy for all of us,” Beach said.

One hundred forty six bills were passed in the state Senate and sent to the House of Delegates as of Thursday, with 53 bills passed by the state Senate just last week.

Among those bills was the Move to Improve Act, which will propose that elementary and middle schools incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into their daily instruction.

“We’re trying to get our kids to move around and allow them to have a little more activity during the course of the school day,” Prezioso said.

The Senate also passed a bill to create the West Virginia Future Fund, which would put 25 percent of oil and natural gas tax revenue over $175 million in a long-term investment fund that would accumulate interest until 2020. A similar fund in North Dakota accumulated over $1 billion in funds in three years.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said that 148 bills passed the House this session, with 72 passed in the last week.

“It’s been a busy week,” Caputo said.

One bill was the Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act.

“It raises the ethical standard for the state’s attorney general so that they cannot represent the state in cases dealing with clients that their wife or family members have done business with in the past,” Caputo said.

The second part of the bill changes where money that is won in suits by the attorney general on behalf of the state goes.

“When the Attorney General’s office sues various entities on behalf of the people of West Virginia, the money stays in his account right now,” Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said. This bill will allow that money to return to the general fund.

The House of Delegates also passed the West Virginia Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts Program bill, which will allow small businesses and other small employers that do not currently offer a retirement plan to use retirement accounts that would be set up by the state.

The water bill is still moving through the House’s second committee in the Judiciary Committee. The bill was “triple-referenced,” meaning it needs to go through three committees before reaching the House floor. Manchin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that committee members were hard at work.

“I think we’ve worked really hard, meeting with all of the stakeholders,” Manchin said. “We got a lot of good feedback on the bill we rolled out the other night from all of those groups. Everyone has some concerns, and we’re seeing if we can address those appropriately without cutting down on safeguards for people.

“I feel very comfortable and confident that we’re going to be able to get a good bill out.”

Manchin said that committee members would be meeting Sunday afternoon to try and finish up on the bill.

After moving through the Judiciary Committee, the water bill will still need to go through the Finance Committee before moving to the House floor for a vote.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, could not be reached for comment.

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