The West Virginia Senate and House came together quickly in a special session to pass bills that deal with several issues, including a budget shortfall.
Nine bills passed at the Friday special session, which was ordered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. They include measures that manage gas well drilling waste, create a statewide system for sexual assault nurses and address local school funding.
All the bills will be sent to the governor for final approval.
The “haircut bill” aims to funnel $21 million from lottery revenues into the state’s reserve fund to decrease the amount needed to balance the 2015 budget. It cuts infrastructure, thoroughbred development, greyhound racing and the racetrack modernization fund.
Delegates from the Eastern Panhandle, where racing is a significant industry, spoke against the bill. Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said 60 percent of the lottery revenue for the entire state comes from Charles Town. He said cuts made in the bill would affect jobs in his district. The bill passed overwhelmingly, nonetheless.
Another bill to help balance the budget increased the Land Division special revenue account of the Department of Agriculture. Half of all excess funds collected in the account are to be appropriated into the state’s general revenue.
The Legislature backed lottery revenue bonds for Cacapon Resort State Park and Beech Fork State Park with a second lien on the State Excess Lottery Revenue Fund and a backup pledge from the state lottery fund.
Seven landfills in the north and northwest portion of the state will be allowed to accept drilling waste beyond their tonnage limits while waiting for permits to expand. The bill also mandates the state Department of Environmental Protection monitor radiation and conduct studies on leaching.
Another measure establishes a statewide regulatory system for sexual assault nurse examiners. It creates both state and local boards for the timely collection and proper recording of sex crime evidence.
City and county officials across the state may see a raise this year. Legislation would allow a one-time raise for county commissioners and city officials if the state auditor certifies a county has sufficient funds for the increases. If they do not, the commission may apply for the raise every year until it has been granted. Several delegates who spoke against the bill asserted that raises on the city level should be controlled by counties. The House passed the bill 56-33, and it passed overwhelmingly in the Senate.
A bill to change how local school shares are calculated also passed Friday. The bill requires real property values be assessed when calculating school district appropriations. Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said that without this bill, schools may be forced to pay a penalty when properties are improperly assessed. She said Monongalia County, for instance, would have to pay $4 million. Wyoming and Lincoln County might also have had penalties tied to property assessment.