The Dome Report, Issue 1, 2022: The West Virginia Legislature Starts 2022 at a Fast Pace

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The West Virginia Legislature commenced its 60-day regular session on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 and proceeded to introduce and advance legislation at breakneck speed. However, it was the short special session, which preceded the regular session, that received immediate attention for what the Legislature enacted in those two days and what occurred shortly thereafter. First, at the request of Governor Jim Justice, the Legislature enacted the West Virginia Industrial Advancement Act, which created a special tax rate for certain labor-intensive heavy industrial manufacturers. Specifically, the bill provides that those qualified manufacturers who invest at least $2 billion and employ a minimum of 500 full-time employees within three years of operation would qualify for tax credits valued at 50 percent of their manufacturing investment. 
 
The reason for this particular legislation was revealed almost immediately in that Nucor Corporation, the largest steel producer in the United States, had selected a specific site in Mason County, West Virginia to construct its new $2.7 billion facility. It is expected to create more than 1,000 construction jobs over the next two years until it is operational and then employ 800 full-time workers.
 
Sadly, before he could savor this significant economic development achievement and deliver the annual message to the Legislature, Governor Justice tested positive for COVID-19 and had to submit his address in writing. The Governor, who was fully vaccinated, including a booster, is now back to work and has rescheduled his State of the State speech for Thursday, January 27.
 
Throughout the legislative session, the Spilman Government Relations Practice Group will provide regular updates to clients and other interested readers concerning the progress of significant legislation in certain areas such as environment, oil & gas, healthcare, insurance, consumer finance, and civil justice reform. This is a mid-term election year, which means that of the 134 members of the Legislature, the entire House of Delegates and half of the Senate will be on the ballot. This year also will be the first year where the House of Delegates will be divided into 100 single-member districts.
           
In the West Virginia Legislature, there is no standard procedure of "pre-filing"  legislation. There is, however, a mechanism that operates similarly. That is, as a general rule, any bill pending in the House at the adjournment of the First Regular Session of the Legislature that has not been rejected, tabled, or postponed indefinitely shall carry over and be introduced to the Second Regular Session. This occurs every even numbered year and such bills shall retain their original number and be introduced on the first day of the session. In 2022, therefore, the House commenced the new session with approximately 630 "carry over" bills. 
 
Significant Dates in the 2022 Legislative Calendar:

  • January 12:  Session commences.
  • February 15: Last day to introduce bills in the House of Delegates. This does not apply to bills originating in committee or appropriations bills. 
  • February 21: Last day to introduce bills in the Senate. This does not apply to bills originating in committee or appropriations bills.
  • February 27: Bills are due out of committee in house of origin.
  • March 2: Last day to consider bills on third reading in house of origin.
  • March 12 (midnight): Session ends. 

Senate Bills 40, 135 and 8
On the first day of the session, the Senate suspended the constitutional rules requiring a bill to be read on three separate days and passed 18 bills that had passed the Senate in the previous year, but that did not complete action in the House of Delegates.  Among those bills were Senate Bill 40, which mandates that insurance carriers may not require prior authorization for certain tests to stage cancer. Senate Bill 135 makes it easier for municipal urban renewal authorities to purchase tax delinquent properties. And, Senate Bill 8which reorganized and merged certain college savings and investment programs for the benefit of West Virginians to obtain additional education and skills.
 
All of these bills now are pending in the House of Delegates.
 
The Governor's State of the State Address
Due to his brief COVID-19 illness, Governor Jim Justice submitted his annual message, or "State of the State", in writing. In his written remarks, the Governor touted an increase in investment in West Virginia with more than $1.1 billion invested in 2021 through economic development efforts and activities. The Governor also noted that “this led to the creation of more than 1,330 new jobs, while retaining more than 6,400 additional jobs in the state in the calendar year of 2021.”
 
Moreover, Justice also pointed out even though the state has been losing population, there had been an increase of 2,000 people just over the past year. The budget he submitted was only 1.4 percent higher than the previous year, coming in at $4.6 billion. The principal highlight of the address was his commitment to a 5 percent pay raise for public employees, in addition to a one-time salary enhancement.
 
House Bill 4088
Another bill of interest introduced in the House of Delegates include House Bill 4088, which promotes investment into the mining and processing of rare earth elements and critical minerals through the establishment of Rare Earth Element and Critical Mineral Investment Tax Credit Act. The amount of credit allowable depends upon the cost of the qualified investment property and the number of new jobs created.
 
House Bill 4001
House Bill 4001 emphasizes the House's focus on economic development by establishing the Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Economic Development Accountability, which will have regular meetings, limited subpoena power, and provide reports to the Legislature. The bill also establishes the creation of certain funds to augment the creation of a statewide broadband network including the Conduit Installation Fund, the Dig Once Fund, Pole Replacement and Relocation Fund, and the Broadband Middle Mile Fund, all to be funded by legislative appropriation. This legislation also codifies certain consumer protection provisions under the purview of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. The House of Delegates Committee on Technology and Infrastructure is slated to take up this bill today, Monday, January 24 at 1:00 p.m.
 
Senate Bill 1
Some of the more significant Senate bills introduced so far include Senate Bill 1. The purpose of this bill is to create the Mining Mutual Insurance Company in order to provide for initial capital and surplus via a transfer from the Department of Environmental Protection of $50 million. This bill was advanced by Senate Finance Committee and is expected to pass the Senate this week.
 
Senate Bill 4
Senate Bill 4 appears to signal a legislative willingness to expand the energy production profile of the state by repealing the law that bans construction of nuclear power plants. This bill was advanced by Senate Economic Development Committee and is expected to pass the Senate this week.
 
Senate Bill 252
In West Virginia, if an employee is injured on the job and can show that he was injured as a result of an employer's knowing violation of an established safety regulation, the employee may proceed with a personal injury civil case in circuit court. This exemption is popularly known as a deliberate intent case. However, the Senate has under consideration Senate Bill 252which would eliminate the deliberate intention statute and instead reaffirm workers' compensation as the exclusive remedy for injured employees.
 
House Bill 4002
House Bill 4002 creates the Certified Sites and Development Readiness Fund and Program. It requires the Department of Economic Development to develop evaluation criteria and an application process for the program. This legislation also permits the Department to offer grant funds to county economic development authorities aimed at getting additional "shovel ready" sites. The House of Delegates Committee on Energy and Manufacturing already has passed a version of this legislation and sent it to the second committee reference in the Finance Committee.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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